classical music http://culturecatch.com/index.php/taxonomy/term/458 en Haiku http://culturecatch.com/index.php/node/3726 <span>Haiku</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/dusty-wright" lang="" about="/index.php/users/dusty-wright" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Dusty Wright</a></span> <span>June 25, 2018 - 10:37</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/458" hreflang="en">classical music</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><article class="embedded-entity"><img src="/sites/default/files/styles/width_1200/public/2019/2019-08/tania-holtje2.jpg?itok=z0NhI6Q8" width="1200" height="857" alt="Thumbnail" title="tania-holtje2.jpg" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /></article><p>Tania Stavreva, Piano</p> <p>Music by Steve Holtje &amp; Others</p> <p>Caffe Vivaldi, NYC</p> <p>22 June 2018</p> <p>Erik Satie may have pursued a simple approach to classical music, even boasting that he lacked musicianship, but the Frenchman's music is stunning in its evocative beauty. Composer Steve Holtje's miniatures recall Satie's approach, especially when using the Gymnopedie form that Satie invented,while never diminishing the music's dynamics nor beauty, much like the Haiku and  Tanka poetry forms he set (using English translations by Kenneth Rexroth and Jane Hirshfield of Japanese poets including Fumiko Nakajo and Akiko Yosano) -- and, occasionally, wrote himself -- for many of his moving songs. And as played by the gifted classical pianist Tania Stavreva with help from vocalists Jayanthi Bunyan, Nikolett Pankovits, and Jason Hill, it was an unforgettable evening. To reinforce the point, after starting the show with some of her own compositions, she played Satie's timeless Gnossienne No. 4 before launching into Mr. Holtje's compositions. But the evening was made even more poignant by the mere fact that one of New York City's most cherished music venues only had one day left before closing forever thanks to yet another greedy Big Apple landlord. Truly sad that after 35 years on Jones Street this favorite haunt of Bohemians, artists, and patrons would be shuttered forever.</p> <p>To my ears, there is almost an improvisational quality to Satie's music that makes one lean in and really pay attention. But it was still simple and concise and, in the "able" hands of Ms. Stavreva, lyrical and beautiful. Some critics have suggested that he's the godfather of ambient music. I asked Mr. Holtje if Satie was a fan of haiku. "I don't know. But Asian influence in turn-of-the-century Paris was strong in both art and music."</p> <p>Mr. Holtje's confluence of his music and his seventeen-syllables poetry is irrefutable.  And his collaboration with the extremely gifted Miss Stavreva seemed the perfect pairing. They met after one of her recitals in 2011. "I reviewed one of her concerts (for <a href="http://culturecatch.com/music/tania-stavreva-piano-recital" target="_blank">CultureCatch</a>) and heard her play Satie. It was a natural impulse to send her my Gymnopedies, and fortunately for me, she liked them and premiered them in 2013."</p> <p>But why base his latest compositions on haiku? According to Holjte: "About 2010 I started trying to strip my music down to the barest of essentials. It became highly concise as a result. Haiku seemed both a good match for my new style (though I should emphasize that it wasn't SUCH a drastic break as I had this impulse in my music all the way back in the '80s) and an inspirational example. But also Kenneth Rexroth's translations of Japanese poetry have been favorites of mine for decades, formative of my taste in poetry."</p> <p>Holtje's music is cinematic. It reminds me of George Winston's compositions as well as Keith Jarrett -- according to Holtje, "Two people whose music I love for its lyricism. It all goes back to Bill Evans, of course. But I would cite two bigger influences on my music: Catalan composer Federico Mompou, for both conciseness and post-Impressionist harmony, and American jazz pianist Richie Beirach, who expanded on Evans's style with even lusher harmony (and, not coincidentally, he is also a Mompou fan whose cover of the first piece in Mompou's Musica Callada cycle interested me in Mompou). As for 'cinematic,' I have composed two soundtracks, and love how vivid music can conjure moods and mental images."</p> <p>What would he hope his audience walks away with from his music and words?</p> <blockquote> <p>"Beauty and a sense of shared humanity across time and cultures. An appreciation for the complexity and/or richness of experience to be found even in short and simple things."</p> </blockquote> <p>The plan is to present a more formal evening at a larger venue before the year's end. The performers are also going into the studio in July to document this repertoire. Stay tuned for future details. </p> </div> <section> <h2>Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=3726&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="l-AUz7O-v7sNpLXIApT2nJKByNMWEQHXhwGaGFN0mfI"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Mon, 25 Jun 2018 14:37:26 +0000 Dusty Wright 3726 at http://culturecatch.com Rhythmic Movement http://culturecatch.com/index.php/music/tania-stavreva-rhythmic-movement-cd <span>Rhythmic Movement</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/user/690" lang="" about="/index.php/user/690" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Steve Dalachinsky</a></span> <span>February 8, 2017 - 01:59</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/458" hreflang="en">classical music</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/users/69/tania-stavreva-rhythmic-movement.jpg" style="width:300px; height:269px; float:right" /></p> <p> </p> <p>Though I am usually turned off by women musicians who tend to dress way too sexy for their roles, particularly in the classical world, I do tend, in the long run, to judge them by their ability as players. I really prefer not to have to see this underdressed ideal of womanhood because I don’t understand why it’s necessary or what it could possibly have to do with the music presented, or for that matter, their possible talent. Are they perhaps trying to sell their SEX as part of the package as an extra enticement, in case their abilities fail them?</p> <p>But every now and then while listening to one of these people, trying my best not to be distracted by this seeming "shortcoming," I am overwhelmed nonetheless by their talent. Such is the case with Tania Stavreva, who, despite her sexy luxuriating atop the piano on the jacket of her debut CD, <em>Rhythmic Movement</em>, proves to be a formidable and accomplished pianist/composer.</p> <!--break--> <p>The program she chooses consists mostly of works by herself, Pancho Vladigerov and Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, an artist whose work I know very little of but that I’m always thrilled to hear. There is also a folk tune both sung and played by Stavreva, along with works by other composers all of whom are new to me. I find the CD exhilarating, exciting, poignant, intense, tender, and surprisingly swinging. There are references to Gershwin and, whether intentional or not, many time signatures that relate to the iconic tune "Take Five." We go in one minute from an exhaustive power to clear, sweet engagement.</p> <p>I would recommend this CD to folks equally afraid of adventure as they might be adventurous. Saturate yourself in all its abrupt and sudden changes and subtle yet swift nuances and the journey will be a pleasantly rocky exaltation.</p> </div> <section> </section> Wed, 08 Feb 2017 06:59:01 +0000 Steve Dalachinsky 3538 at http://culturecatch.com Steve's Favorite New Classical Albums of 2013 http://culturecatch.com/index.php/music/steves-favorite-new-classical-2013 <span>Steve&#039;s Favorite New Classical Albums of 2013</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/steveholtje" lang="" about="/index.php/users/steveholtje" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Steve Holtje</a></span> <span>January 6, 2014 - 00:11</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/458" hreflang="en">classical music</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/chailly-brahms_0.jpg" style="width:300px; height:300px; float:right" /></p> <p>As always, there are biases at play here; my greatest interests are symphonic music, choral music, and piano music, so that's what comes my way most often. There are some paired reviews; the ranking of the second of each pair might not be the true, exact ranking, but it works better from a writing standpoint this way. </p> <div><strong>1. Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. <span data-scayt_word="56a" data-scaytid="1">56a</span>; 3 Hungarian Dances; 9 <span data-scayt_word="Liebeslieder" data-scaytid="2">Liebeslieder</span> Waltzes; Intermezzi, Op. 116 No. 4 &amp; Op. 117 No. 1</strong></div> <div><strong><span data-scayt_word="Gewandhausorchester" data-scaytid="3">Gewandhausorchester</span>/<span data-scayt_word="Riccardo" data-scaytid="4">Riccardo</span> <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="5">Chailly</span></strong></div> <div>(<span data-scayt_word="Decca" data-scaytid="6">Decca</span>)</div> <div> </div> <p>It is not easy, at this point in recording history, to match the giants of the baton in a Brahms cycle, but <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="7">Chailly</span> has done it (this is my fiftieth Brahms cycle, and I have more than another fifty Brahms Firsts, and upwards of thirty each of the other symphonies outside those cycles, so I've got some basis for comparison). <!--break-->Often one must choose between alacrity and clarity, but even as <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="9">Chailly</span> moves things along at a brisk pace, the Leipzig orchestra plays with such precision that everything remains crystal-clear. Similarly, there is often a tradeoff between precision and expression, but not here. Oh, it's not the effulgent expressiveness of <span data-scayt_word="Furtwängler" data-scaytid="18">Furtwängler</span>, but it's plenty. And the orchestra's timbres are full and creamy yet still distinct; the winds in particular are colorful (granted, not Eastern European colorful, but far above normal German standards). And while <span data-scayt_word="Chailly's" data-scaytid="19">Chailly's</span> tempos are on the quick side, things are plenty charming where appropriate (the inner movements of the Third are especially tender); this is no <span data-scayt_word="Toscanini" data-scaytid="20">Toscanini</span> sprint, and <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="10">Chailly</span> applies some subtle but exquisite <span data-scayt_word="rubato" data-scaytid="21">rubato</span>. This is a Goldilocks set: just right. And though <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="11">Chailly</span> fits the four symphonies on two CDs, there's an additional <span data-scayt_word="disc" data-scaytid="22">disc</span> anyway, with the usual suspects (Academic Festival Overture, Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn), a few less common (the Hungarian Dances and <span data-scayt_word="Liebeslieder" data-scaytid="13">Liebeslieder</span> Waltzes orchestrations), and some downright rare: the recording premieres of orchestrations of two Intermezzi by Paul <span data-scayt_word="Klengel" data-scaytid="24">Klengel</span> (1854-1935) and, most crucially, the original version of Symphony No. 1's Andante. <span data-scayt_word="Chailly" data-scaytid="12">Chailly</span> makes everything here, even the oh-so-familiar symphonies, sound fresh and new and spontaneous without resorting to gimmicks or eccentricities. Of the cycles of the stereo era, I rank this alongside my favorites by Walter, <span data-scayt_word="Sawallisch" data-scaytid="25">Sawallisch</span>, <span data-scayt_word="Böhm" data-scaytid="26">Böhm</span>, Kurt <span data-scayt_word="Sanderling" data-scaytid="27">Sanderling</span>, <span data-scayt_word="Mackerras" data-scaytid="28">Mackerras</span>, <span data-scayt_word="Kertesz" data-scaytid="29">Kertesz</span>, slightly ahead of <span data-scayt_word="Klemperer" data-scaytid="30">Klemperer</span> and the underrated <span data-scayt_word="Ashkenazy" data-scaytid="31">Ashkenazy</span> and <span data-scayt_word="Janowski" data-scaytid="32">Janowski</span>, and far ahead of <span data-scayt_word="Karajan" data-scaytid="33">Karajan</span>, <span data-scayt_word="Solti" data-scaytid="34">Solti</span>, etc.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/penderecki-piano.jpg" style="width:260px; height:260px; float:right" /><strong>2. Barry Douglas/<span data-scayt_word="Lukasz" data-scaytid="35">Lukasz</span> <span data-scayt_word="Dlugosz" data-scaytid="36">Dlugosz</span>/Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/<span data-scayt_word="Antoni" data-scaytid="37">Antoni</span> Wit</strong></div> <div><strong><span data-scayt_word="Penderecki" data-scaytid="38">Penderecki</span>: Piano Concerto "Resurrection"; Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra</strong></div> <div><strong>(<span data-scayt_word="Naxos" data-scaytid="39">Naxos</span>)</strong></div> <div> </div> <div><span data-scayt_word="Krzysztof" data-scaytid="42">Krzysztof</span> <span data-scayt_word="Penderecki's" data-scaytid="43">Penderecki's</span> Piano Concerto "Resurrection" (2001-02/revised in 2007) is a work of epic proportions, a whopping ten movements. The pianist here, the great Barry Douglas, premiered the revised version and handles the taxing solo part with aplomb. The piece is wildly colorful and stunningly dramatic (cinematic, even), a great modernist's extension of the Romantic concerto idiom into the <span data-scayt_word="21st" data-scaytid="44">21st</span> century. Conductor <span data-scayt_word="Antoni" data-scaytid="40">Antoni</span> Wit, so crucial to the success of <span data-scayt_word="Naxos's" data-scaytid="46">Naxos's</span> <span data-scayt_word="Penderecki" data-scaytid="41">Penderecki</span> series, is the perfect collaborator with Douglas. The competition in this edition of the Piano Concerto is also excellent, but costs more for less music, as it lacks a coupling. Here we also get the Flute Concerto, which dates from the previous decade (1992). Although nearly as colorful as its <span data-scayt_word="discmate" data-scaytid="48">discmate</span>, it has a cooler austerity, and is quite the showcase for <span data-scayt_word="Dlugosz's" data-scaytid="49">Dlugosz's</span> virtuosity.</div> <div> </div> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/johnson-november.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>3. R. Andrew Lee</strong></div> <div><strong>Dennis Johnson: <em>November</em></strong></div> <div><strong>(Irritable Hedgehog, irritablehedgehog.com)</strong></div> <div> </div> <div>This is a bit of Minimalist history. Obscure (and retired) composer Dennis Johnson's <em>November</em> is the first tonal Minimalist composition, dating from 1959, and as Kyle Gann (to whom we owe its revival and the performing edition Mr. Lee uses) puts it in his liner notes, "<em>November</em> was apparently the first piece to proceed through the repetition of small motives, which is the technique now most commonly associated with minimalism...the first static or repetitive piece to be several hours in length…[and] the first known piece to proceed via additive process.... In short, in <em>November</em> most of the elements we now think of as minimalist appeared all at once." It directly inspired Johnson's college classmate LaMonte Young's iconic <em>The Well-Tuned Piano</em> (absent the tuning difference); it was Young, in fact, who introduced Gann to <em>November</em> via a cassette tape of a 1962 performance by Johnson. And it anticipated the techniques used by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, among others. Historical importance/precedence aside, it is a great listening experience. It has some of the hushed stillness of late-period Morton Feldman, albeit more emphatic at times; at nearly five hours in length in Lee's recording of Gann's reconstruction using the tape and Johnson's notes towards a performing score, it makes use of the words "hypnotic" and "meditative" almost inevitable. All concerned have done us a great service.</div> <div> </div> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/rautavaara-missa.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>4. Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava</strong></div> <div><strong>Einojuhani Rautavaara: Missa A Cappella/Sacred Choral Works</strong></div> <div><strong>(Ondine)</strong></div> <div> </div> <div>5<strong>. Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava</strong></div> <div><strong>Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil</strong></div> <div><strong>(Ondine)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>The first recording of a major Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928- ) work is newsworthy; when it's a choral work, I start salivating. The 26-minute Missa A Cappella is, as expected, absolutely beautiful and full of interesting harmonies (much like 1940s Britten, e.g. <em>Hymn to St. Cecilia</em>). The premiere came in 2011, soon after its completion, but it was begun in the '70s with the Credo (1972), around which the rest was composed four decades later, not that any such break can be discerned through listening. Very gentle, often undulating, but not without a spine, it seems destined to become a 'standard' in the choir world. The other seven pieces here are more familiar; all but one were already included in Ondine's four-CD Rautavaara choral music box set (compiled last year from previously issued material), but these are different performances and, in a few cases, different arrangements by the composer. The supreme masterwork among them is the <em>Canticum Mariae Virginis</em> (1978), which floats magically in this recording; the <em>Missa duodecanonica</em> (1963), a <em>missa brevis</em>, shows how even when using strict 12-tone technique, Rautavaara's style is undiluted. The Latvian Radio Choir is just about perfect.<img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/klava-rachmaninov.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /></p> <p>It is also a treat to hear them in Rachmaninov (as we already did on their 2010 album of his <em>Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom</em>). The <em>All-Night Vigil</em>, AKA Vespers, is by far the Russian composer's most popular choral work, and there have been a number of excellent recordings of it. Add this one to that list; the choir's blend is positively magical, and conductor Sigvards Klava shapes the music beautifully, without any quirks. A few Russian recordings edge this one out (Tchernouchenko's, Korniev's, and Polyansky's), as the LRC basses don't have quite the heft to match the Russians, but based on blend, good tempos, and excellent recorded sound, I'm ready to call Klava's the best non-Russian recording.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/mccreesh-war-requiem.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>6. Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley, Christopher Maltman/Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir/Gabrieli Youth Singers Scheme/Trebles of the Choir of New College Oxford/Gabrieli Consort &amp; Players/Paul McCreesh</strong></div> <div><strong>Britten: <em>War Requiem</em></strong></div> <div><strong>(Signum)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>Last year was the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, and what with England being one of the last countries with a thriving classical music business, there were plenty of recordings to mark the occasion. Aside from operas, this was the most ambitious; the <em>War Requiem</em> is not only a revered masterwork with a superb recording by the composer that competes with all subsequent renditions, it's also a massive work in scope and performing forces, not easy to coordinate or to make cohere. With conductor Paul McCreesh being an early music conductor of a revisionist bent, I wondered what tricks he might get up to here. To my delight, there are no bizarre interpretive choices, no strange tempos (contrary to my expectations, McCreesh luxuriates in the music for a couple more minutes than Britten). There is just an inspired reading that fully conveys the magic of the work. The soloists are superb; whatever one might say about relative interpretive depth, which actually I have no complaints about, this is a better-sounding and better integrated set of soloists than Britten himself had. With the vastly improved recorded sound and even more precise execution of the musical demands, this is a magnificent achievement. Maybe better than Britten's, maybe not, and certainly a composer-led performance will always have a special aura, but McCreesh and company more than hold their own and on a purely sonic level sound better, no small advantage in the complex textures and rich timbres of this music.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/steffani-stabat-mater.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>7. Cecilia Bartoli/Nuria Rial/Yetzabel Arias Fernandez/Elena Carzaniga/Franco Fagioli/Daniel Behle/Julian Pregardien/Salvo Vitale/Swiss Radio-Television Choir/I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis</strong></div> <div><strong>Steffani: Stabat Mater; etc.</strong></div> <div><strong>(Decca)</strong></div> <div> </div> <div><strong>8. I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis</strong></div> <div><strong>Steffani: <em>Dances and Overtures from the Operas</em></strong></div> <div><strong>(Decca)</strong></div> <p> </p> <p>Some divas throw their weight around regarding such indulgent trivialities as the green room food, wardrobe, etc. Superstar mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, on the other hand, uses her power far more productively: she records obscure repertoire and gets the major label she's on to release it. I'll grant you that there are two other recordings of the Stabat Mater of Agostino Steffani (1654-1728) available currently, but they ain't on a major with the distribution reach and promotional clout of Decca, or featuring the star power Bartoli wields so adroitly and benevolently. After starring herself on last year's Steffani project, <em>Mission</em>, she has moved out of the spotlight to varying degrees on the two present Steffani discs. She is, in fact, entirely absent from the <em>Dances and <img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/barocchisti-steffani.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" />Overtures</em> album, since it is purely instrumental. It's a great deal of fun nonetheless, and recommended to anyone who enjoys late Baroque instrumentals (such as Vivaldi fans). Fully 27 of the 43 tracks are recording premieres; 20 separate operas are heard from. The main focus, though, is of course on the Steffani album with Bartoli. Steffani's Stabat Mater is an excellent piece of its type, full of variety in the combinations of solo voices and choir. Bartoli did not shy away from hiring excellent soloists; bass Salvo Vitale in particular has a big, luscious voice (check out "Vidit suum dulcem Natum"). Of course, Bartoli's dark and vibrant tones are immediately recognizable, but she blends well enough with duet partners and always shines when in the solo spotlight. This album also includes six other sacred choral works, all taken from manuscripts and all recording premieres. They are at the same high level of compositional achievement as the Stabat Mater. All fans of Baroque sacred music should get this album.</p> <div><strong><strong><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/ax-variations.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" />9. </strong>Emanuel Ax</strong></div> <div><strong><em>Variations </em>[Beethoven: "Eroica" Variations, Op. 35; F.J. Haydn: Variations in F minor (Sonata), Hob.XVII:6; R. Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13]</strong></div> <div><strong>(Sony Classical)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>The thinking man's pianist delivers again. Rather than playing the "Eroica" Variations for pure flash and coming out gangbusters, he builds it slowly. It gives the set a more profound mien, and the arc created helps make more sense of the aching 14th and 15th Variations, which are deeply affecting in Ax's reading. The way he builds up 15 is a master class in proportion. And when there are virtuoso passages, he's more than up to them. Ax also ruminates through Haydn's innovative double-themed Variations in F minor; his astute understanding of its structure helps him make it especially poignant. In the Schumann, we are more firmly in the realm of virtuoso music, but with slower, more sheerly beautiful movements interspersed. Ax also sprinkles in three of the five additional variations that Brahms included decades after Schumann's death. (Schumann had done some pruning before publication.) Once again, Ax's keen sense of proportion makes for a memorable interpretation, and the tenderness is subtly striking. The CD ends there, but the download also includes Aaron Copland's Piano Variations, taking us into a different century and a different culture. Here Ax's pearly tone pays dividends. Pianists specializing in modern music often have a steely tone that makes this thorny music seem even more forbidding; as played by Ax, this set seems less distant from the 19th century works on the program.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/britten-piano-violin-concertos.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>10. Tasmin Little/Howard Shelley/BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner</strong></div> <div><strong>Britten: Concerto for Piano &amp; Orchestra, Op. 13; Concerto for Violin &amp; Orchestra, Op. 15</strong></div> <div><strong>(Chandos)</strong></div> <p> </p> <p>More Britten, and it's no surprise coming from the great English label Chandos, which calls on two of its stars for the solo roles. In both pieces we get the revised versions, but the Piano Concerto's original (1938) slow movement is included as a bonus track; dubbed a Recitative and Aria, it seems at times like a refugee movement from a Concerto for Orchestra, what with the prominence of various winds at different times; it also sounds rather Parisian (imagine a cross between Saint-Saens and Poulenc), sparklingly flamboyant, of drastically different character from the more staid rest of the concerto, but it works well as a stand-alone piece and gets a brilliant performance from Shelley and Gardner. Shelley's performance of the revised concerto (1945) must stand, as all do, in the shadow of Sviatoslav Richter's reading for Decca with the composer conducting, but Shelley does pretty well himself with an alternative approach, making the diffuse structure cohere and earning smiles as he fully indulges Britten's cheeky parodies of Romantic concerto tropes (Richter plays them straight). Little has more to work with in the Violin Concerto, which is far more emotive and better-written. She is even more moving than most who've played this, and sounds wonderful as well. She has a big vibrato, but she varies it enough and keeps it tight enough that it never becomes sappy even though effusive. It's a very moving performance that milks it for all it's worth, especially the somberly dramatic finale. In a year chock-full of Britten, this still stands out.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/klara-min-chopin.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" />11. <strong>Klara Min</strong></div> <div><strong>Chopin: Mazurkas [Op. 24 Nos. 1-2, 4; Op. 30 Nos. 3-4; Op. 50 No. 3; Op. 56 No. 2; Op. 59 Nos. 1-3; Op. 63 Nos. 2-3; Op. 67 Nos. 2-4; Op. 68 Nos. 2, 4]</strong></div> <div><strong>(Delos)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>This Korean pianist, now residing in New York, approaches these little dance pieces from an unexpected perspective. Rather than emphasizing their dance rhythms and keeping them snappy, which is the norm, she lingers over them, turning each one into a voluptuous self-contained world. Which is not to say her rhythms are lax or flaccid; they're just as pointed as the competition's (check out Op. 50 No. 3). But the slower tempos allow Chopin's luscious harmonies a chance to be more fully apprehended, which is most welcome. One could not get away with converting these pieces into miniature tone poems -- which is what she seems to be doing -- without the most exquisite touch, and she certainly has that in spades, along with a combination of attention to detail and taste that keeps her readings engrossing on repeated listening. The approach is a little too unusual to make this the top recommendation for newcomers to this repertoire (they are of course directed to Arthur Rubinstein's iconic renditions), but this album's sensual charms have exerted a strong pull on me for months.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/keller-ligeti.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>12. Keller Quartet</strong></div> <div><strong>Ligeti: String Quartets/Barber Molto Adagio from String Quartet, Op. 11</strong></div> <div><strong>(ECM New Series)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>The first of Ligeti's String Quartets, "Metamorphoses nocturnes," was written in 1953-54, before he fled Hungary's Communist regime. It is an unusually structured quartet in 17 sections; technically it is one movement, but sometimes the breaks between sections are significant, and certainly the contrasts are often stark. Section styles range from Bartokian to harshly bowed swathes of dissonance to mournful elegy to sardonic vernacular bits to hushed nocturnal moments, and more. The Keller Quartet, fellow Hungarians, render the work characterfully, never curbing the astringent passages but also honoring the occasional plush areas, notably the concluding Lento. Then, in an odd but effective programming choice, comes the famous Barber Adagio, but played with a keening tone that makes this the leanest, most eerie version I've heard. I admire the chutzpah, and think it works. (But I can't help but wish that, on a 51-minute CD, they had played the entire Barber Quartet. It wouldn't provide the effect they were looking for with the way they sequenced the pieces, though.) By the time Ligeti wrote his Second Quartet, his music had become much more avant-garde (not that the First is easy listening). It proceeds through a series of musical gestures and textures, varying the material drastically according to contrasts in speed, volume, etc. The psychic turmoil that results (depiction or causation, your choice) is extremely intense. The Kellers' reading is finely nuanced and quite evocative.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/delitiae-musicae-gesualdo5.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>13. Delitiæ Musicæ/Marco Longhini</strong></div> <div><strong>Gesualdo: Madrigals, Books 5 and 6</strong></div> <div><strong>(Naxos)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>You're hip to how innovative Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613) was, right? The wildest harmonies of the Renaissance, allied to agonizing texts of lost love. (Something Carlo knew a little about after finding his wife in bed with another man. After which he naturally, being a prince and all and required to defend his honor, put his sword through them both, death being the ultimate loss.) With this three-disc set, the best complete set of Gesualdo's madrigals is finished. The high quality that has been present throughout the cycle is here as well. We get excellent pitch and blend, supple and highly expressive phrasing and dynamics (without overdoing it), and appropriate milking of Gesualdo's juicy dissonances by all-male quintets (drawing from a pool of seven singers) with two fine (non-hooty) countertenors taking the high parts. Finally the old (1965) Quinetto Vocale Italiano set has been superseded. Complete texts and translations included (hardly a given nowadays).</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/celestial-hierarchy.jpg" style="width:140px; height:140px; float:left" />14. <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hildegard-von-bingen-celestial/id639913227?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">Sequentia</a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hildegard-von-bingen-celestial/id639913227?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank"><em>Celestial Hierarchy </em>[Hildegard von Bingen: antiphons and responsories]</a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hildegard-von-bingen-celestial/id639913227?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)</a></div> <p>Another important early music recording project concluded triumphantly in 2013: Sequentia's recordings of the complete music of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a project over thirty years in the making and more than incidentally responsible for the greatly increased interest, in that time, in the "Sibyll of the Rhine." <a href="http://www.emusic.com/music-news/review/album/sequentia-hildegard-von-bingen-celestial-hierarchy" target="_blank">My review is here</a>.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/young-bruckner.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" />15. <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/symphony-no.-0-in-d-minor/id652948447?i=652949131&amp;uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young</a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/symphony-no.-0-in-d-minor/id652948447?i=652949131&amp;uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">Bruckner: Symphony 0</a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/symphony-no.-0-in-d-minor/id652948447?i=652949131&amp;uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">(Oehms)</a></div> <p>As I wrote for the Classical Ear app (<a href="http://classicalear.co.uk/">classicalear.co.uk</a>): "Recordings of this underrated work often seem tentative or merely dutiful, usually foundering immediately on the first movement, which can so easily come off as disjointed. Young seems fully committed to the work's validity and makes the first movement cohere superbly. Rather than going for maximum contrast between thematic sections, she integrates them in terms of both tempo and texture. Young takes the opposite tack in the Scherzo, luxuriating in the softer Trio, though playing the aggressive bits with emphatic force rather than speed. Her tempos, in all four movements, are on the broad side, and the orchestra's rich tone (refulgent brass in particular) and phrasing augment the effect of her conception of the work. It helps that this concert recording offers full-bodied yet detailed and well-balanced SACD sound (stereo/multichannel hybrid). Thanks to Young's more aptly Brucknerian tempo proportions, 'Die Nullte' finally sounds like a work of gravity and stature."</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/marenzio-primo-libro.jpg" style="width:140px; height:140px; float:left" />16. <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/marenzio-primo-libro-di-madrigali/id696940810?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">La Compagnia del Madrigale</a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/marenzio-primo-libro-di-madrigali/id696940810?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">Luca Marenzio: <em>Primo Libro di Madrigali 1580</em></a></div> <div><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/marenzio-primo-libro-di-madrigali/id696940810?uo=4&amp;at=11l4R8" target="_blank">(Glossa)</a></div> <p>Madrigal connoisseurs know that it was Luca Marenzio (c.1553-1599), not peers now more famous, who was considered the top madrigalist of his time (he was an undeniable influence on Monteverdi). He produced a whopping 24 madrigal collections, of which this, in 1580, was the first. La Compagnia del Madrigale is a new group unfamiliar to me, consisting of three male and three female singers. I almost set this disc aside on hearing some ugly sounds, but then I checked the lyrics of "Dolorosi martir, fieri tormenti": "Bitter agonies, fierce torments, harsh traps, cruel snares, rasping chains, whilst I lament my lost love wretchedly." (Luigi Tansillo is the poet, channeling Dante's <em>Inferno</em>.) So there was justification, and it is not overdone. "Dolorosi martir, fieri tormenti" is striking not just for the vocal timbres, but for its dissonant harmonies, advanced for that time. All the madrigals in Book I are for five voices except the last of the 14, an echo piece for two quartets (two additional singers join for that one). After that there is room for the inclusion of works from a multi-composer collection of 1582, <em>Dolci affeti</em>, from which we hear another Marenzio madrigal plus a collaborative Sestina (movements by Nanino, Moscaglia, Marenzio, de Macque, Soriano, and Zoilo). Finally, there is a reconstruction of Marenzio's earliest known madrigal, from a 1577 collection. This is an excellent album recommended to all madrigal fans; I eagerly await further releases from La Compagnia del Madrigale, and dream of a Marenzio cycle from them.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/jacobs-matthew-passion.jpg" style="width:154px; height:138px; float:right" /><strong>17. Sunhae Im/Christina Roterberg/Bernarda Fink/Marie-Claude Chappuis/Werner Güra (Evangelist)/Topi Lehtipuu/Fabio Trümpy/Johannes Weisser (Christ)/Konstantin Wolff/Arttu Kataja/RIAS Kammerchor/Staats- &amp; Domchor Berlin/Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs</strong></div> <div><strong>J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion</strong></div> <div><strong>(Harmonia Mundi)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>It's hard to believe it's taken this long for a Jacobs recording of the St. Matthew to appear (well, as a conductor; he's a singer on Herreweghe's first, and Leonhardt's). "Worth the wait" definitely applies here, not least because of the unique perspective of this recording. And that's not metaphorical: this recreates the division of forces as heard at St. Thomas's in Leipzig, with Choir 1 and its accompanying orchestra in front of the congregation and the smaller Choir 2 with its own small orchestra in the back balcony. Even on my normal stereo system, the spaciousness and spatiality of this arrangement comes through; on an SACD system, I imagine the effect is stronger and more realistic. But this recording matters much more than that aspect alone. This is a majestic performance. Some have faulted the period performance movement, which Jacobs is unabashedly a part of, for removing much of the majesty that used to be commonplace in Bach performances; one cannot complain of that with this recording. This is a strongly reverential reading that lingers occasionally, though with enough rhythmic lilt that it never lumbers like some pre-PP recordings did. Nor does Jacobs skimp on other Baroque performance aspects. For instance, in the wonderful bass aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein," Wolff ornaments and varies the melody in the <em>da capo</em> section. The soloists are excellent, with many of them familiar from other Bach recordings; Güra is an especially expressive Evangelist. The choir, organist, and period orchestra produce rich tones (no one-on-a-part here), and Jacobs gives us a characterful interpretation.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/jarvi-raff.jpg" style="width:120px; height:120px; float:right" /><strong>18. Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Jarvi</strong></div> <div><strong>Raff: Symphony No. 2; Four Shakespeare Preludes</strong></div> <div><strong>(Chandos)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>Prolific but underrated composer Joachim Raff (1822-1882) is little remembered now, but he was a master symphonist, as can be heard on this fine new recording. Fans of Austro-Germanic Romanticism are particularly recommended to give him a listen and take the opportunity to acquaint themselves with this unjustly denigrated contemporary of Brahms. <a href="http://www.emusic.com/music-news/review/album/orchestre-de-la-suisse-romandeneeme-jrvi-raff-symphony-no-2-four-shakespeare-preludes/" target="_blank">Review here</a>.</p> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/burhans-evensong.jpg" style="width:140px; height:140px; float:right" /><strong>19. Trinity Wall Street Choir/Tarab Cello Ensemble/Alarm Will Sound</strong></div> <div><strong>Caleb Burhans: <em>Evensong</em></strong></div> <div><strong>(Cantaloupe)</strong></div> <div> </div> <div>Burhans (b.1980) is one of the younger generation of composers for whom genre boundaries mean nothing, but based on this collection of seven compositions, call him a Pop-Minimalist. Gestures of Minimalism -- simple harmony, repetitive patterns, motoric rhythms (a little trawl through his press clippings reveals a 2008 <em>New York Times</em> interview in which he talks about his youthful enthusiasm for "Mozart, with those Alberti basses that are almost like the arpeggio sound in Glass," and that in particular pops up again and again here) – serve a more melodic style (unlike most Minimalists [NicoMuhly being the worst], his text settings sound natural and songlike) and include non-classical instrumentation (more than one piece includes a drummer bashing away on a regular rock kit). With his knack for text setting, the choral pieces using liturgical texts – <em>Magnificat</em>, <em>Super FluminaBabylonis</em>, and <em>Nunc Dimittis</em> -- are immensely appealing, positioning him as a younger and hipper Morton Lauridsen (they are sung here by the Trinity Wall Street Choir, of which he is a member -- his day job, so to speak). The instrumental works are also tuneful but in a slower-moving way (whatever the speed of the beat under them), heard on "Oh Ye of Little Faith...(Do You Know Where Your Children Are?)" in particular, suggesting an Americanized/modernized Arvo Pärt. People for whom even Glass and Reich are too much could easily relax into these attractive and relatively short pieces.</div> <div> </div> <div><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/images/pollini-beethoven-2013.jpg" style="width:160px; height:160px; float:right" /><strong>20. Maurizio Pollini</strong></div> <div><strong>Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 4, 9-11</strong></div> <div><strong>(Deutsche Grammophon)</strong></div> <div> </div> <p>Recorded the year (2012) this Italian maestro of the keys turned 70, this is a successful continuation of one of the most slowly accreting Beethoven sonata cycles in history (38 years so far, with another four to go; he's recorded some twice, studio and concert). Pollini is not quite the flawless technician he used to be -- his steely rhythmic precision has gone ever so slightly fuzzy, so some of the busier passages in 4 and 11 are a tad elided -- but his touch and phrasing make Beethoven's lines sound like strings of beautifully shining pearls. And, touch being the aspect of pianistic technique that's too much underappreciated and underutilized nowadays, there is much the most hot-shot young pianists could learn from listening to this album. Equally welcome is that interpretively, there is never an exaggeration nor eccentricity, yet neither is there a rote nor bland moment to be heard. Of course, two of these sonatas (4 and 11) rank among Beethoven's masterpieces. But Pollini gives just as fully of his mastery in the pair of littler sonatas that make up Op. 14. In his hands they seem nobler, yet there is no sense of them being inflated beyond their merits or proper proportions. And proportion is one of the secrets of Pollini's mastery. His tempos seem perfectly judged, with, again, nothing odd straining for attention or novelty. There is a sense of inevitable and utterly graceful (yet smoothly powerful) rightness to the overall direction of these performances, with a warmth and poetry not always present in his earlier Beethoven recordings.</p> <p> </p> </div> <section> </section> Mon, 06 Jan 2014 05:11:17 +0000 Steve Holtje 2919 at http://culturecatch.com Bartok Piano Works http://culturecatch.com/index.php/music/murray_perahia_bartok_piano_works <span>Bartok Piano Works</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/steveholtje" lang="" about="/index.php/users/steveholtje" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Steve Holtje</a></span> <span>February 9, 2007 - 08:25</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/458" hreflang="en">classical music</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>This reissue -- <em>Great Performances: Murray Perahia Performs </em>Béla<em> </em>Bartók -- supplements a <img alt="perahia_bartok" height="200" src="/sites/default/files/images/perahia_bartok.jpg" style="float:right" width="200" />1981 solo LP (of 1973, '76, and '80 recordings) with another Bartok piece from a 1988 album; <em>Bartok Piano Works</em> thus puts all of Murray Perahia's recordings of the composer's work on a single disc. Perahia has recorded surprisingly little modern music compared to other currently active superstar pianists (this stuff plus the Berg Sonata is about it), but he sounds perfectly at home in this repertoire. The Piano Sonata sounds like the masterpiece it is, simultaneously primitive and modern in its rhythmic ferocity and harmonic dissonance. <!--break--> Hearing Perahia put all his technique and interpretive taste at the service of the relatively obscure <em>Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs</em> - much more complex and unfolkish than the title suggests -- it too sounds like a great work. The little four-movement Suite, Op. 14, is charming. The other acknowledged solo masterpiece here, <em>Out of Doors</em>, alternates power and seductiveness. "With Drums and Pipes" thunders brilliantly; "Barcarolla" is positively erotic; "Musettes" (depicting bagpipe drones) shifts moods mercurially in teasing, playful fashion; the mysterious "Musiques Nocturnes" shimmers delicately and impressionistically; the dramatic closing movement "The Chase" is thrilling without being one-dimensional or overbearing.</p> <p>Perahia's playing in the above pieces is less clangorous and percussive than his competition's (thanks be given, as these works are inherently percussive enough that banging is overkill). The harmonies seem more piquant as a result, and the lyricism in the slower pieces is never slighted. But the drive of the Eastern European rhythms Bartok took from the folk music he loved and researched so extensively loses no acuity in Perahia's hands. The engineering offers a close perspective and dry sound in the solo works, but the beauty of Perahia's tone -- a beauty rarely heard from other Bartók players -- still shines through. The dynamic range could be wider, but the close miking presumably made louder playing impractical and softer playing impossible.</p> <p>For the later recording of the mighty <em>Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion</em>, Perahia is joined by Sir Georg Solti on piano (taking a holiday from his usual conducting gig and proving fairly adept as a player) and percussionists David Corkhill and Evelyn Glennie. The coordination between the pianists, though generally fine, has a few ragged moments in the first movement, though nothing comes unhinged in a work notoriously difficult to keep together; it helps that the outer movements are less frenetic in tempo than in many performances, though that takes a toll in excitement. Sonically there are some odd perspective shifts (the pianos seem to trade sides) and the piercing xylophones are overly prominent -- but this is also a piece famously challenging to balance. It's unfortunate that the last item is not quite up to the standard of the solo pieces, but on a mid-price CD such as this, the first 47 minutes of impeccable pianism are enough to justify its acquisition, just as when they made up a stand-alone LP. Think of the <em>Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion</em> as a long bonus.<br /><!--break--></p> </div> <section> </section> Fri, 09 Feb 2007 13:25:48 +0000 Steve Holtje 416 at http://culturecatch.com ANNIVERSARIES: Benjamin Britten's War Requiem premieres at reopening of Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1962 http://culturecatch.com/index.php/music/britten <span>ANNIVERSARIES: Benjamin Britten&#039;s War Requiem premieres at reopening of Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1962</span> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/index.php/users/steveholtje" lang="" about="/index.php/users/steveholtje" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Steve Holtje</a></span> <span>May 29, 2006 - 03:24</span> <div class="field field--name-field-topics field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Topics</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/music" hreflang="en">Music Review</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Tags</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/index.php/taxonomy/term/458" hreflang="en">classical music</a></div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="video-embed-field-provider-youtube video-embed-field-responsive-video form-group"><iframe width="854" height="480" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rsSMCq7pl_k?autoplay=0&amp;start=0&amp;rel=0"></iframe> </div> <p>If you'd like to listen to some appropriate music on Memorial Day (which, before we made most of our holidays fall on Mondays or Fridays because corporations like that better, always came on May 30), try this masterpiece. Sir Benjamin Britten wrote it for the consecration of St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry and dedicated it to the memories of four servicemen who had been friends of his or of his longtime partner, the tenor Peter Pears, for whom one of the solo parts was written. The original Coventry Cathedral, dating from the 14th century, had been destroyed by a German air raid in 1940.</p> <p>When, over two decades later, a new cathedral was built, the ruined walls of the old one were left standing, a reminder of both its architectural glory and its sad destruction. Britten's <em>War Requiem, Op. 66</em>, offers a complex, multi-layered response to the circumstances. There's no patriotism or "hurrah for our boys" here; instead, we are faced with not only religious texts but also the war poetry of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), which emphasizes our shared humanity regardless of nationality and decries the cataclysmic loss of life that took place in World War I. It was supposed to be "the war to end all wars"; it didn't, though it did end Owen's life (one week before the Armistice).</p> <p>Britten, an avowed pacifist, weaves starkly emotional settings (for the male soloists) of Owens's poems among the Latin text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass for the Dead (sung by an adult choir augmented by a soprano soloist) and selected Latin anthems (sung by a children's choir, usually all boys), sometimes alternately, sometimes within a movement. Accompanying the singers is a massive orchestra (actually two, one a chamber orchestra) and organ. Any performance of this genuinely monumental piece is a major undertaking and a big event. On a personal note, I have sung the <em>War Requiem</em> in the chorus, but my response to it is largely emotional rather than professional. It is a deeply powerful work; exhilarating in its achievement, fascinating in its artistry, but most of all capable of inspiring genuine tears. Tears of sadness at the senseless loss Owen depicts, and tears of rage that we still, even after so many examples of the wastefulness of war, let demagogues promulgate conflict.</p> <p>In some ways, the most unsettling movement is the shortest, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a plea for rest/peace after death that Britten juxtaposes with an Owen poem criticizing organized religion for having abandoned Christ, gone over to the dark side so to speak, and having switched allegiance to the State. And when this conflicts with the extreme pacifism that Christ preached, it's the pacifism that's abandoned: "The scribes on all the people shove / And bawl allegiance to the state / But they who love the greater love / Lay down their life; they do not hate." When Owen then adds "Dona nobis pacem" (Grant us peace) from the Ordinary Mass version of the Agnus Dei, there are multiple levels of meaning and perhaps even sarcasm; Britten places it up against the chorus's "Dona eis requiem sempiternam" (Grant them eternal rest) from the Requiem text. All of this is accentuated by Britten's restless music, which moves with a steady tread through an unsettling scale that grants neither rest nor peace. It is followed by the closing movement, Libera me, which mixes the Latin text -- including such fraught lines as the Mass's "Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal" and "May they rest in peace" and the boys' choir singing "In paradisum deducant te Angeli" (Into Paradise may the Angels lead thee) -- with Owen's "Strange Meeting," which is the crux of the War Requiem's meaning: two soldiers, one English, one German, meet on another plane of existence. The English soldier had killed the German soldier the day before; now they mourn together "the undone years," a phrase which cuts two ways.</p> <p>There have been a number of fine recordings of this work, starting with Britten's own. In the recording studio, he was able to use the soprano soloist for whom he had written the part, the Russian Galina Vishnevskaya; the Soviet government, still angry over its massive losses in World War II at the hands of the German Army, was not ready for reconciliation, so Minister of Culture Ekaterina Furtseva didn't let Vishnevskaya sing at the premiere (nor were the officially atheist Communists going to be sympathetic to anything religious). This had temporarily thwarted Britten's plan of uniting soloists from the Soviet Union, Germany (baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), and England (Pears), three nations that had suffered greatly in World War II, the war that had left the old cathedral a bombed-out shell. Britten's recording, on Decca, obviously has both historical significance and interpretive primacy, not to mention harrowing performances by all three soloists.</p> <p>But in several important aspects, Britten's recording is surpassed by Richard Hickox's 1991 recording on Chandos (which also includes fine performances of Britten's orchestra work Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20, and <em>Ballad of Heroes</em>, Op. 14 for tenor, chorus, and orchestra; both are also memorial works, though obviously of much smaller scope and less maturity). Having all British soloists may lose the symbolism of Britten's recording, but the Owen poems, in English, are more clearly sung by Hickox's bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk than by Fischer-Dieskau. Also, the sound is vastly superior, offering greater fullness and much more clarity (and it was also issued in 2003 as a hybrid Super Audio CD that's sonically superb). Nor is this recording without some historical significance of its own: the soprano soloist is Heather Harper, who subbed for Vishnevskaya at the premiere; Harper's Latin pronunciation is more practiced. Tenor Philip Langridge may not quite offer the interpretive brilliance of Pears, but his voice is better. Having both recordings is ideal, but choosing between them, Hickox's gets the nod.</p> </div> <section> </section> Mon, 29 May 2006 07:24:55 +0000 Steve Holtje 264 at http://culturecatch.com