Sunday, May 31, 2015

Programming - June 2015

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Monthly Theme

This month, our Friday Blogs and Podcasts will continue to explore “sonatas”. We will add these and more previously shared material on our Classical Hubub on the subject.

Friday Blog and Podcast



Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

I plan a tandem post of my Beethoven sonatas podcast, and the second of our two-part look at great voices from the past, focused on performers from 1950-70.

NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …

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Friday, May 29, 2015

En récital: Lortie & Liszt

No. 200 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast200



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This week’s Friday Blog and Podcast is a significant milestone – it is our 200th podcast in a series we began on April 1st, 2011. I like to think that’s special… And with every special occasion, we offer a little something extra – here, we throw caution to the wind, and bring you nearly one hour and 3/4 of piano music.

Where to begin? Well, I remember it as if it were yesterday – my first paycheque as a “working man”. I was working and living in a small town about 1 hour South-West of Montreal and on that day, I went to the local mall and walked into the record store, purchasing some CDs. In fact, in 1987 when all of this took place, my music collection only had one, maybe two CDs, as I’d only just purchased a CD player. One of the CDs I purchased on that day was by Montreal-born pianist Louis Lortie.

Lortie began to study piano at age seven, working successively with Nicole Pontbriand-Beaudoin, and Sister Simone Martin at the École de musique Wilfrid-Pelletier and Yvonne Hubert at the École normale de musique. He gained recognition at the Canadian Music Competitions for five successive years (1968-72), at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Concours in 1972, making his debut with the orchestra at the age of thirteen and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra three years later. Soon after he performed an historic tour of the People’s Republic of China and Japan with the TS.
He won First Prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in 1984 and came in fourth - at the Leeds Competition that same year.

As a recording artist, Lortie has well-over 30 albums to his credit, most of them with the Chandos record label – music of Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel and Liszt are most noteworthy in his catalog. On that shopping visit of the Summer of 1987, I purchased his recording of Liszt Sonata in B Minor from 1986. Today’s podcast provides the recording in its entirety, along with the filer material, his Three Concert Studies.

Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B Minor was completed in 1853 and published in 1854 with a dedication to Robert Schumann.  Scholars describe it as one of the greatest keyboard works of the nineteenth century, receiving a lot of analytical attention, particularly regarding its musical form.

The rest of the podcast is taken from a later Lortie/Chandos release of Liszt’s Années de Pélerinage, which earned him a Canadian Juno Award for “Best Classical Album (Solo or Chamber Ensemble)” in 1992. Of the three years of Pilgrimage, I chose the Second year (Italy, in its original form, without the Venezia e Napoli supplement) composed between 1837 and 1849 and published in 1858. No. 7 of the suite is well-known and often performed as a stand-alone piece: Après une Lecture du Dante (also known as the “Dante Sonata”), a piano sonata in one movement, completed by Liszt in 1849. This work of program music was inspired by the reading of Dante Alighieri's most famous epic poem, the Divine Comedy.


I think you will love this music too!

Friday, May 22, 2015

En récital: Richter & Prokofiev

No. 199 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast199



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This week’s Podcast is an interesting study, an interesting exploration of a very specific time that has a deep influence on both our performer and the composer being featured.

I think we will all agree that, among the many traditions that make up Western Classical Music, the Russian tradition is rich with Nationalism and a distinct colour and – shall I say – fire. When we think of the Russian tradition, and especially of “Russian Nationalism” in music, we immediately think of the “Mighty Handful” – Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Cui – the small circle of St-Petersburg composers that made it their business to write music that was distinctly Russian and Nationalistic. We could add Tchaikovsky to that list, though he emanates from the “Moscow” school. Nonetheless, Tchaikovsky wasn’t necessarily writing music that was devoid of Nationalist (or even Tsarist) flavor.

Things change slightly with the 1917 Revolution, as we can then talk of a “Soviet” era – from 1917 to, say, 1990 with the advent of “Glasnost and Perestroika”. With the immense changes in the socio-political climate of what was once the Russian Empire, the repression and isolation imposed by dictators like Joseph Stalin has to have had an influence on the “Russian” music tradition. After all, many composers earned a living through the support of the Regime, who would commission works that needed to reflect the “Government message” – whatever that message was at that time. Works need to evoke the righteousness of the Regime’s values, or commemorate great events or milestones of the Post-Tsarist Soviet Union.

The musical voices of the day include Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian and, of course, Prokofiev. Prokofiev stands out in that list for two reasons – first, he trained under Alexander Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatory, a man who was himself trained and immersed in Tchaikovsky’s tradition and, secondly, in spite of having lived abroad after the Revolution, he and his family chose to return to Moscow in 1936.

If living and trying to earn a living in Stalin’s Soviet Union wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Second World War came, and Prokofiev was evacuated from Moscow together with a large number of other artists, to the Caucasus.

During the war years, restrictions on style and the demand that composers should write in a 'socialist realist' style were slackened, and Prokofiev was generally able to compose in his own way. In 1939, Prokofiev composed his Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7, and 8, Opp. 82–84, widely known today as the "War Sonatas." Biographer Daniel Jaffé argued that Prokofiev, "having forced himself to compose a cheerful evocation of the nirvana Stalin wanted everyone to believe he had created [... In these three sonatas, Prokofiev] expressed his true feelings".

Today’s podcast features that triptych of sonatas, performed by pianist Sviatoslav Richter who – along with Emil Gilels – can be thought of as the preeminent Soviet piano virtuoso of his time. Born in 1915, a few short years before the rise of the Soviet era, Richter trained in the 1920’s at the Odessa Conservatory. Richter’s father, a German expatriate pianist and organist probably was influential in his early musical training, which may explain why Richter was quite adept in music of both Austro-German and Russian traditions. 

In 1949 Richter won the Stalin Prize, which led to extensive concert tours in Russia, Eastern Europe and China. He gave his first concerts outside the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia in 1950. Having received the Stalin and Lenin (1961) prizes and become People's Artist of the USSR (1955), he gave his first tour concerts in the USA in 1960, and in England and France in 1961, returning regularly to the West to perform and to record.

Richter explained his approach to performance as follows: "The interpreter is really an executant, carrying out the composer's intentions to the letter. He doesn't add anything that isn't already in the work. If he is talented, he allows us to glimpse the truth of the work that is in itself a thing of genius and that is reflected in him. He shouldn't dominate the music, but should dissolve into it."

In these performances of the War Sonatas, one of which he premiered and that he championed as a whole since their inception, this is exactly what Sviatoslav Richter does: he lends Prokofiev his voice, allowing him to express the despair and pathos of his life, and the life of the Soviet people as only he could.

I think you will love this music too.


Friday, May 15, 2015

En récital: Kovacevich & Beethoven

No. 198 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast198



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Today’s podcast features a performance of the three last piano sonatas composed by Ludwig van Beethoven by pianist Stephen Kovacevich.

The American pianist was known before 1975 as Stephen Bishop and then Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich. According to his Wikipedia biography, when his mother remarried, his name was changed to Stephen Bishop, the name under which he performed in his early career. He later discovered that he was often being confused with the singer and guitarist Stephen Bishop. To avoid the confusion, he began performing as Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich and later simply as Stephen Kovacevich.

Born in California in 1940, Kovacevich made his concert debut as a pianist at the age of 11; then, at the age of 18 he moved to London to study under Dame Myra Hess on a scholarship and has been a London resident ever since, currently living in Hampstead. In 1961 he made a sensational European debut at the Wigmore Hall, playing the Sonata by Alban Berg, three Bach Preludes and Fugues and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. In 1967, he made his New York debut and since then he has toured Europe, the United States, the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and South America.
As a soloist, he has frequently performed and recorded works by, amongst others, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Bartók.

Ludwig van Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas - the mirror of his creative span - explore, like the quartets and symphonies, dimensions of universal experience. ‘Unconventional, experimental' music of' ‘lofty spirituality' peopled by ‘many different characters' was Hugo Leichtentritt's thumbnail sketch of Beethoven's late sonatas. Ranging ‘from inferno to paradiso,' he told Harvard audiences in the thirties, ‘their magnificent cosmic visions (Opp 106, 109, 111) have passed beyond the appassionato and the Titanic phases into metaphysical depths, mystic regions of a world beyond, [while] intermezzi of incomparable lyric beauty and intimacy of utterance (Opp 81a, 90, 101, 110) tinged with melancholy sing of the enchanting loneliness of the terrestrial world.'

The group of three includes the op. 109 sonata, characterised by a free and original approach to the traditional sonata form. Its focus is the third movement, a set of variations that interpret its theme in a wide variety of individual ways. Op 110, an intricate forging of classical rigour and modern fantasia, recitative/aria and baroque fugue, was completed on Christmas Day 1821. ‘A work in every respect wholly excellent, extremely melodious throughout, and rich in harmonic beauties,' (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung).

Dedicated to his patron and pupil the Archduke Rudolph of Austria, Beethoven's final sonata, Op 111 (1821-13 January 1822), travels a Romantically-charged journey from dissonance to concord, black forte G minor diminished-seventh homelessness to white pianissimo C major repose, primeval darkness to celestial light, earthly passion to heavenly pæan. ‘A summing-up of Beethoven's whole nature,' believed the great Edwin Fischer, a spiritual testament symbolizing ‘this world and the world to come.'


I think you will love this music too

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great Voices from the Past (Before 1939)

This is ma Once or Twice a Fortnighty post from May 14, 2015.


For the next couple of OTF posts, I plan not to propose a “full length” opera but rather a set of excerpts from podcasts that bring to light Great Voices from the Past. These podcasts are taken from the “filler material” host Sean Bianco uses in his Friday Night at the Opera/At the Opera weekly programs which he dubs “Opera Potpourri”.

Today, I will be featuring three such podcast clips, from 2011 and 2012 where Sean discusses and shares recordings of the Nimbus “Viva Voce” series dedicated to vintage acoustic and electrical recordings of some of the great singers of the early 20rth century. All of the recordings featured today are from before 1939 (the “youngest” being from 1938, I believe).

It’s a treat to not only discover some of these singers – some of them recognizable names, others less – which I cam safely say none of us have heard in person (or even on television or film). I also take particular delight in Mr. Bianco’s commentary – he is a true connoisseur, and describes his impressions with such sincerity and true enthusiasm!

Here are some very short notes about the singers featured in these audio clippings:



Rosa Ponselle (1897 –1981), was a first-generation Italian-American operatic soprano with a large, opulent voice. She sang mainly at the New York Metropolitan Opera and is generally considered by music critics to have been one of the greatest sopranos of the past 100 years.


Giuseppe De Luca (1876 –1950), was a famous Italian baritone who achieved his greatest triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He notably created roles in the world premieres of two operas by Giacomo Puccini: Sharpless in Madama Butterfly (at La Scala, Milan, 1904) and the title role in Gianni Schicchi(Metropolitan Opera, 1918).


Lauritz Melchior (1890 –1973) was a Danish and later American opera singer. He was the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and has since come to be considered the quintessence of his voice type.



Johan Jonatan "Jussi" Björling (1911 –1960) was a Swedish tenor and one of the leading operatic singers of the 20th century, appearing for many years at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and less frequently at the major European opera houses, including the Royal Opera House in London and La Scala in Milan. 

When putting these clips together, I retained Sean’s commentary “unedited” – there may be some artifacts related to these being “air checks” – technical snafus, several seconds of dead air, etc.), but I wanted to keep as much of the content “intact” – that’s just my way of not “editing out” the essence of his message.

Happy Listening!

13 May 2011

Excerpts from “Jussi Björling Vol.2”, Nimbus: NI7842
LA BELLE HÉLÈNE (J. Offenbach), Au mont Ida trois déesses [Sung in Swedish] 
Rec: 31 May 1938 Matrix: OSB 755-1 HMV Cat: X 6090 
DER ZIGEUNERBARON ( J. Strauss II), Wer uns getraut? [Sung in Swedish] 
with Hjördis Schymberg (soprano), Rec: 28 April 1938 Matrix: OSB 741-5 HMV Cat: X 6146 
DER BETTELSTUDENT (C. Millöcker), Ich hab' kein Geld, bin vogelfrei [Sung in Swedish] 
Rec: 28 April 1938 Matrix: OSB 743-4 HMV Cat: X 6090

20 Oct 2012

Excerpts from “Jussi Bjorling - The First Ten Years”, Nimbus: NI7835
L'AFRICANA (G. Meyerbeer), O Paradiso 
Rec: 4 September 1937 Matrix: 2SB 573-2 HMV Cat: DB 3302 
LA GIOCONDA (A. Ponchielli), Cielo e mar 
Rec: 3 September 1937 Matrix: 2SB 570-2 HMV Cat: DB 3302 
LA BOHÈME (G. Puccini), Che gelida manina 
Rec: 4 December 1936 Matrix: 2SB 439-2 HMV Cat: DB 3049 
MANON (J. Massenet), Il sogno (En fermant les yeux) 
Rec: 10 August 1938 Matrix: 2SB 779-2 HMV Cat: DB 3603 
G. Rossini, Cujus animam from “Stabat Mater” (1842), 
Rec: 12 October 1938 Matrix: 2SB 823-3 HMV Cat: DB 3665 
IL TROVATORE (G. Verdi), Di quella pira [Sung in Swedish] 
Rec: 3 March 1934 Matrix: OPA 235-2 HMV Cat: X 4265 

1 april 2011

Excerpts from “Rosa Ponselle Vol.3”, Nimbus: NI7878
IL TROVATORE, Tacea la notte placida 
Rec: 16 Nov 1922 Mat: 98051-1 Columbia Cat: 68036D Romano Romani conductor
LA FORZA DEL DESTINO (G. Verdi), Pace, pace mio Dio 
Rec: 11 Dec 1923 Mat: C29060-4 Victor Unpublished Rosario Bourdon conductor

Excerpts from “Giuseppe de Luca”, Nimbus: NI7815
LA GIOCONDA, Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior 
with Beniamino Gigli (tenor), Rec: Nov 1927 Matrix: 41072 Victor Cat: 8084B
RIGOLETTO (G. Verdi), Piangi, fanciulla 
with Amelita Galli-Curci (soprano) Rec: 1927 Matrix: A 41236 Victor Cat: 3051
IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA (G. Rossini), Largo al factotum 
Rec: 1917 Matrix: 19163 Victor Cat: 6077

Excerpts from “Rosa Ponselle Vol.3”, Nimbus: NI7878
S. Foster, Old Folks at Home (also known as Swanee River, 1851)
Rec: 4 June 1925 Mat: CVE 32865-3 Victor (Unpublished) Pasternack conductor

Excerpts from “Lauritz Melchior”, Nimbus: NI7816
DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG (R. Wagner), Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein ('Prize Song')
Recorded 1924-1939 Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, Conductor

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/03OperaPotpourri110401

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tamás Vásáry Plays Chopin


This is my Tuesday Blog from May 12, 2015.


Pianist Tamás Vásáry, like his colleagues Vladimir Ashkenazy and Christoph Eschenbach (only to name those two) is less and less heard on the instrument where he made his mark in the 1960’s, and is more known as a conductor.

Born in Hungary, Vásáry made his stage debut at the age of 8, performing Mozart's Piano Concerto in D major, K.107 and giving a solo recital the following year. He then began to concertize regularly as a child prodigy; it was at this time that he was introduced to Ernő Dohnányi, the leading figure of musical life in Hungary, who made a unique exception by offering to accept the gifted youth as a pupil in spite of his age. Vásáry also studied with József Gát and Lajos Hernádi at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, and was later assistant there to Zoltán Kodály. At the age of 14 Vásáry won first prize in the Franz Liszt competition at the Academy of Music in Budapest, in 1947. He left Hungary in 1956 and settled in Switzerland. He made his débuts in the major cities of the West in 1960 and 1961 and during the 1960’s made many recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, particularly of the Romantic repertoire, especially Frédéric ChopinFranz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Chopin wrote four Sonatas: three for piano solo and one for piano and cello and today’s vinyl selection comes from the DG Chopin recordings Vásáry made in the mid-sixties, featuting him in the two most heard Chopin piano sonatas, nos. 2 and 3.

Chopin composed his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 ("Funeral March") mainly in 1839 at Nohant near Chateauroux in France, although the funeral march third movement had been composed as early as 1837. The Sonata confused contemporary critics which can be traced to Schumann's remark that Chopin had here yoked together four of his maddest children under the same roof.

We could say, in Chopin’s defense, that the traditional Sonata form of A-B-A is in fact a very Germanish tradition and plays a relatively minor role in the development of music in France, Italy, Spain, Russia and much of the eastern Europe, which are truly the traditions that most influenced him. As his last sonata for solo piano, it has been suggested that the Sonata no. 3 was Chopin’s attempt at addressing the criticisms of his earlier Sonata No. 2. Along with the previous sonata, this is considered to be one of Chopin's most difficult compositions, both technically and musically.

Happy listening!


Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 2 In B Flat Minor, Op. 35
Piano Sonata No. 3 In B Minor, Op. 58
Piano – Tamas Vasary
Deutsche Grammophon Resonance ‎– 2535 230
Format: Vinyl, LP Stereo (1966) Reissue (1977)

YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...PHtr2Kjm0qp2MZ

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/05PianoSonataNo.3InBMinorOp

Friday, May 8, 2015

En récital: Kempff & Brahms

No. 197 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast197



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This week’s piano recital features selections from the Johannes Brahms piano catalog, performed by the late great German pianist, Wilhelm Kempff.

In spite of his great output as a composer, and in spite of the fact Brahms was known as an excellent pianist (and a close friendship with one of the greatest pianists of his time in Clara Schumann), his catalog doesn't offer much for the piano. There are (early) piano sonatas, sets of virtuoso variations and – of course – his 21 Hungarian Dances for piano 4-hands, but little else. We find a number of ballads, rhapsodies, two piano concertos and a handful of piano collections – sets of four to eight piano pieces or klavierstucke.

Today’s podcast features three of these sets of pieces – two sets of 8 klavierstucke and a set of sevem fantasies.

A champion of the German Romantic piano repertoire, Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) was particularly well known for his interpretations of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. He recorded the complete collection of their piano sonatas. He is considered to have been one of the chief exponents of the Germanic tradition during the 20th century and one of the greatest pianists of all time.
When pianist Artur Schnabel undertook his pioneering complete recording of the Beethoven sonatas in the 1930s, he told EMI that if he didn't complete the cycle, they should have Kempff complete the remainder - even though the two pianists took noticeably different approaches to the composer (for example, Schnabel preferred extremely fast or slow tempos, while Kempff preferred moderate ones). Later, when Kempff was in Finland, the composer Jean Sibelius asked him to play the slow movement of Beethoven's 29th Sonata, the Hammerklavier; after Kempff finished, Sibelius told him, "You did not play that as a pianist but rather as a human being."

As a performer Kempff stressed lyricism and spontaneity in music, particularly effective in intimate pieces or passages. He always strove for a singing, lyrical quality. He avoided extreme tempos and display for its own sake.


I think you will love this music too! 


Friday, May 1, 2015

En récital: Ciccolini & Satie

No. 196 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast196



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This month's podcasts share a common pattern: they feature great pianists of today and yesterday "in recital", playing the works of a single composer.

Today's podcast unites a great Italian pianist and a unique piano voice of the 20th century: the late Aldo Ciccolini and Erik Satie.

The pianist Aldo Ciccolini, who died this past February at the age of 89, was famed for his pearly, translucent tone and nimble fingerwork. Though highly regarded by his pupils, who included Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Artur Pizarro and Nicholas Angelich, and by other musicians with whom he performed, notably the singers Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Nicolai Gedda and the violinist Jacques Thibaud, he never quite entered the big league of international soloists. That may have been in part because his tasteful, understated style of playing did not lend itself to barnstorming performances. Or it may have been the result of his fascination with neglected repertoire: Satie and Saint-Saëns were among the better-known composers he championed, but he also explored the piano works of Rossini, Salieri, Massenet, De Falla and the little-known French composer Déodat de Séverac.

Though born and brought up in Naples – he became in 1947 the youngest person to hold the post of piano professor at the city’s conservatory – he eventually made his home in France. His benchmark recordings of Satie were notable for their unaffected artlessness and thoughtful shaping of phrases; the hypnotic quality of the playing nevertheless managed to suggest something more complex under the limpid surface.

As for Satie himself, he was quite a character - something of a failed music student, he was devoted to what we would call to day "religious cults" (the PC term here being "orders") and live the life of a hermit - in today's terms, Satie would have been viewed as a "hoarder", living in a home that was bursting with items, in chaos and disorder, often wearing the same outfits. Many of his compositions were in fact discovered after his death, among his hoard, unpublished during his lifetime.

The Satie-Ciccolini recital I concocted avoids the overplayed works - like the Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes - and offers a cross-section of works from different momnts of Satie's career, including some titles intended for the stage.

I think you will love this music too.