Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 - Year In Review

This is the time of year where I traditionally take a few moments to write to all of you, to express my sincere thanks for your support during the almost three years that we’ve been involved in this adventure in Classical Music and Blogging.

Every week it seems, somebody provides feedback on one of our posts, or comments on a Video we added to our YouTube Channel, or reviewed one of our Internet Archive submissions. In past years, I took the time to look at statistics, but I find that to be, for one, a lot of trouble and, two, misleading

Our Social Media footprint is always increasing and we have anywhere between 150 and 200 people reading our stuff on a weekly basis – and that’s just the “new” posts. People find our stuff and “binge” on a bunch of posts! I still get views of stuff I posted two or three years ago, either on the blogs or on the Archive.

New subscribers to the Blog, the Facebook feed or the YouTube channel pop up every week! It’s hard work trying to put the word out on this little initiative, but it looks like we have quite the modest fellowship!

It will sound odd to bring it up this way, but I wonder how much longer I can keep this up.

At the time of writing this post, we have banked about 180 podcasts, and about 50 other playlists of MP3 files of music and opera. That’s a lot for one guy! When I look in my little notebooks and crib motes I write with ideas for more podcasts and playlists, there’s certainly at least one more year of it in me. After that, I’m not sure.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy it – I do. But it’s the time investment that is becoming the problem. Not only because I chose to maintain several platforms (here, the Tuesday blog, OTF, the French stuff…) , but because I hold firm to the principle that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right, and do my research and write stuff that isn’t bland or curt.

So far, I’ve been able to do a lot of things in my spare time, over lunch at work, or during business trips, when I have “alone time”. As time goes on, using the computer at work becomes a problem, as our administrators block off non-work related websites in an effort to protect our corporate network.

Everything in balance, they say… The need to balance “personal” time and “together” time is something I am more and more aware of. As I said a few months back, my wife and I have become empty nesters, and she needs more of my attention, since she is still dealing with not having the kids around, and looking for outlets for all that extra bandwidth. Some of those outlets are things she – we – want to do “together”. How can I say “well, I have to work on my blogs, and then we can go to the movies”…

I have a goal, and it is to get to the “five year mark”. I’d like to keep this up at least until April 2016. Five years, that would be a great run, wouldn’t it? Then, maybe I could put my blogging pants in the closet, at least until I retire and look for things to do to fill up my days. I still have “miles to go” before retirement, though…

So, don’t worry, I’m not planning to stop these adventures, at least not yet. But nothing lasts forever…

This year, I did something different, and slowed down during July and August. I may well do that again next year. We focused on Beethoven during the summer of 2014, maybe we’ll do Mozart during the Summer of 2015.

Another thing I did less of this year is podcasting “fragmentary works”. In fact, we dedicated an entire month of podcasts to “unfinished business” and completed some work fragments we’d posted over the last couple of years. We also did “one work montages” for a whole month, and even added a few in the Fall (with Mahler’s 9th and Britten’s War Requiem). I could do something like that again next year, I haven’t quite decided yet.

Do you like the blog’s new look – which we unveiled in the Fall? I did that, in part, to make the site experience a better one for “mobile” users. Does it work for you? How about my new Tuesday Blog feature “Vinyl’s Revenge”? Is that something that you like?

As always, I’m keen to hear from you either directly, through comments on our platforms oir event through our Facebook and Google + handles.
So what about 2015? What’s in store? Here are some themes (and arcs) that I have planned for next year:

  • A Mendelssohn series (that’s coming in January);
  • A series on great pianists;
  • A look at Max Bruch’s concertos (in fact, there is some cross-connections with the Mendelssohn series that will make this quite compelling)
  • I’d like to take a serious bite out of the Mozart Piano Concertos – maybe as part of that Summer series)
  • I see lots of works for two soloists or two performers in our future
  • I’ve been thinking about “concertos” in a traditional and less-traditional sense
I think that’s enough teasing our upcoming programs…

Usually, this post is where I provide my “mixed bag” of YouTube fillers for the year. As I said earlier, there wasn’t much filler material because we didn’t program fragmentary works. So, to grow the mixed bag, I’ve thrown in some works that will remind us of some of the themes we considered in 2015: some Themes and Variations, maybe some “F”’s and “9”’s, Some Vinyl selections from my collection…

Also, at the end of this post, links to some updated directories to podcasts, playlists and featured works.

Podcast Directory -

Once Upon The Internet Directory-

Monday, December 22, 2014

Handel's Messiah

This is ma Once or Twice a Fortnighty post from December 22, 2014.

As evidenced by other discussion threads on OperaLively, this is the time of year for staging Handel’s enduring oratorio, Messiah. (The other time of year, of course, being Easter).

The Messiah discography and the traditions surrounding its performance are extensive, and require a few comments.

The oratorio contains 53 individual sections, and it is customary – in live performance anyway – to omit about a dozen of them. Some “purists” may feel slighted by that long-standing tradition, but I consider that many sections can be skipped without really affecting the overall opus as they are sometimes quite introspective in nature and a shorter “live performance” isn’t worse for wear, if you ask me…

Speaking of purists, I’ve heard Messiah performed under “authentic” conditions, some of them adopting original orchestration - classical-era musicians added woodwinds – and more British/Victorian era conditions where there’s “strength in numbers”. As with a lot of music, there’s nothing sacrilegious about doing things one way or the other, as Messiah is about the tone, the text and the interpretation.

I read recently in a review that, like we do for Bruckner symphonies, it is important to identify the “edition”: the 1998 Clifford Bartlett edition seems to be the recent “darling” edition, supplanting the Watkins Shaw edition that many ensembles used in the 80’s and 90’s. Both editions keep to the Handel model of three “parts”, Part Two ending with the famous “Halleluiah Chorus”.

Today, however, I wanted to share a different interpretation, that precedes the HIP movement by a couple of decades, and takes liberties in the arrangement of the sections that few musicians would dare to attempt nowadays.

It should first be stated that in one way or another every performance of Messiah is a version of the work - whether because of cuts (almost always model), or drastic variation in the size of orchestra and/or chorus, or differences in instrumentation (there is much scholarly debate on the subject of Handel's original orchestral intentions), or in the use of Mozart's additional wind parts (some of which have been proved to be by Hiller, not Mozart, or for many other reasons too technical to discuss here.
This quote is taken straight from the original liner notes accompanying today’s performance on vinyl by the conductor, Leonard Bernstein.

Indeed, there is such a thing as a “Bernstein Edition” of Messiah, and it finds its inception in a live performance by Bernstein and the New-York Philharmonic that pre-dates his tenure there as music director – Carnegie Hall, 1956.

Bernstein in those early years, and throughout his life, was a maverick of sorts, looking for new ways to approach just about everything he performed. Here are the two main things you should know:

  • He used the “Victorian” edition by Ebenezer Prout (with a real continuo instead of the wind quartet suggested in this edition). In some movements the Mozart/Hiller instrumentation (additional winds) is used.
  • Bernstein saw the second part of the work as falling into two sections: switching them put the "joyful" music of the latter half of Part II immediately after Part I (the "Christmas" section), reshaping the whole work into two large parts rather than three.

The result? Well, it sure isn’t for the purists… The quest for authenticity has overtaken interpretation in many ways, and a conductor recording 'Messiah' without attempting a historically-informed style of performance does so at its own peril! And nobody would dare introduce the level of revision that Bernstein did for this 1956 recording and the Carnegie Hall performances which preceded it.

Sometimes, you have to take the moment in, and admire the “sporting element” (as Bernstein and his friend and mentor Dimitri Mitrpoulos would say). Bernstein's rearrangement of the sections works as the dramatic sequence he intended, and his reasons for doing it make sense. He made no claims to authenticity and didn't apologize for mucking about with a "masterpiece."

This is a powerful, vibrant 'Messiah' with elegant solo singing and a chorus which could sing softly when necessary and let the great choruses rip through. Although not for purists, it is both a fascinating document of Bernstein's concept of the piece and a performance well worth listening.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685 - 1759) 
Messiah, HWV 56
Libretto by Charles Jennens after the Bible
Adele Addison, soprano
Russell Oberlin, countertenor
David Lloyd, tenor
William Warfield, baritone
Westminster Choir
(John Finley Williamson, director)
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Part One: Christmas Section

Part Two: Easter Section

Detailed Order of Numbers:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hódolat Magyarország

No. 178 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast178- Playlist

The last of our montages for 2014 (already!) also completes our trifecta dedicated to the music of Hungary. Our yearly programming has always had summer montages that fall under the broad category of “musical passports”, collages of music inspired by or featuring artists from different parts of the world. Because we decided to take a break this summer, we didn’t have any such montages thus far. Today, we oblige with a tip of the hat to artists, music and the gypsy flair associated with the “other half” if the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Hungarian folk music includes a broad array of styles, including the recruitment dance verbunkos (central to Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies), the csárdás and nóta.

Three names pop up of our playlist this week, all three are not only Hungarians but  they are also significant comntributors to the musical scene of the 20th Century: Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók and George Szell.

During the 20th century, Hungarian composers were influenced by the traditional music of their nation which may be considered as a repeat of the "nationalist" movements of the 19th century (notably in German and Russian traditions) but is probably more an opportunity to break from the form and rigour of the classical tradition. Béla Bartók took this departure into the abstract musical world in his appropriation of traditional Hungarian folk music as the basis for symphonic creations.

Kodály (like Bartók) was an ethnomusicologist, interested in preserving the Hungarian folk music tradition and one of his most enduring works, the folk opera Háry János, is a spoken play with songs, in the manner of the German Singspiel. Kodály wrote in his preface to the score: "Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier who day after day sits at the tavern spinning yarns about his heroic exploits... the stories released by his imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naivety, of comic humour and pathos." People may assume that the title Háry János refers to a man named Harry. In Hungarian, names are always presented in the order 'surname', 'first name' (as in Bartók Béla and Liszt Ferenc). Therefore, the title refers to a man called János (a common first name in Hungary, equivalent to the English John), whose surname is Háry…

Kodály extracted the orchestral Háry János Suite from the music of the opera. The suite notably includes the cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian variant of the hammer dulcimer. The legendary George Szell conducts the suite in today’s montage, a memorable oft-reissued vintage recording.

Bartók contributes one of his many pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music, improvisations on Peasont Songs “op. 20”. This composition is the last one on which Bartók put an Opus number, because henceforth he would treat his folk music and his more artistic side as equal. However, interestingly, this work is far from his folk pieces, with its abrasive harmonies and rhythms. The great Murray Perahia is at the keyboard.

Sprinkled about in the first portion of the montage are “inspired” pieces from non-Hungarian composers: Tchaikovsky and Hector Berlioz. The "Rákóczi March" (Hungarian: Rákóczi-induló) was the unofficial state anthem of Hungary until 1823. Berlioz included the music in his composition "La Damnation de Faust" in 1846, and Franz Liszt wrote a number of arrangements, including his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, based on the theme.

The works by Rachmaninov, Popper and Sarasate that constitute the latter section of the montage make the transition from a more folk/peasant Hungarian atmosphere to the Romani or “Gypsy” tradition, which was also exploited by Johannes Brahms in his Hungarian Dances.

Azt hiszem, szeretni fogja ezt a zenét is!
(I think you will love this music too!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Magyar rapszódiák, Part Two

No. 177 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Today’s podcast is the second in our two-part look at Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. After considering the sub-set of six that were set for orchestra, we now turn to the remaining 13, in their original piano solo setting.

Franz Liszt's 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies use gypsy tunes from his native Hungary, and combine them with his own dazzling piano writing. The colorful and flamboyant pieces which result tax pianists as much as delight listeners!

Interestingly, however, Liszr was born on the Hungarian side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, yet spent most of his formative years in Vienna and later in Paris. Liszt's father played the piano, violin, cello and guitar and had been in the service of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy. In that musical environment, he met Haydn, Hummel and Beethoven whom he knew personally. At age six, Franz began listening attentively to his father's piano playing and showed an interest in both sacred and Romani (Gypsy) music – so the seed was sewn for these rhapsodies quite early.

As Liszt toured Europe as a piano virtuoso, notably in the late 1830’s, he returned to his native Hungary where he re-encountered those folk tunes of his youth, and from there the Rhapsodies are finally hatched.

All the works bear dedications to important Hungarians of the day (Szerdahelyi, Teleki, Festetics, Kázmér Esterházy, Mme Reviczky, Apponyi, Orczy, Augusz, Egressy), or to musicians with Hungarian interests (Joachim, Ernst, von Bülow). The later works express an even stronger affinity with Hungary: Rhapsodies XVI–XVIII are entirely original compositions in the Hungarian manner, whilst XIX returns to the methods employed in the earlier works, this time citing the origin of the themes. The last four Rhapsodies were all published in Hungary, generally with Hungarian and German titles, and with Liszt’s name in his now-preferred Hungarian style: Liszt Ferenc. Rapsodie hongroise I was begun no earlier than 1847, and uses material from the Consolations. The piece is in the familiar csárdás pattern of lassú and friss: fast and slow sections, each with a mixture of elements of improvisation and variation.

More insight on the individual rhapsodies can be found in the excellent “introduction” to the complete rhapsodies recorded by Leslie Howard for Hyperion. It is hard to characterize the level of pianistic gymnastics required to perform these works – especially as I am not a pianist myself. If I were to provide a synopsis of any one of these, I’d say something like “a mix of melancholy, glittering keyboard acrobatics and stormy, rousing dance”.

The pianists we have retained for this montage constitute a varied mix of stellar soloists: Misha Dichter, Nelson Freire, Alfred Cortot, Grigory Ginsburg, Alfred Brendel and Vladimir Horowitz.

I Think you will love this music too!

As a post-scipt to this post, here is a complete set of all 19 rhapsodies, by an unidentified performer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Aeolian String Quartet Plays Haydn (Part 2)

This is a past Tuesday Blog from Dec-09-2014 . 

Vinyl’s Revenge returns for the second of a two-part series on the String Quartets of Joseph Haydn -last month's considered his six quartets of the opus 20.

Composed in 1790, the string quartets of Opus 64 constitute a second set of six quartets for violinist Johann Tost (the first set of six are the opp. 54 and 55), who had led the second violins of Haydn's orchestra at Esterháza from 1783 until his departure for Paris in 1788. In Paris Tost sold some of Haydn’s compositions, and Haydn actually dedicated the Op. 64 set to Tost in gratitude for his efforts. 

Later in life, Tost became a cloth-merchant and dabbled in music promotion - Mozart also apparently provided Tost with chamber music, namely his last two string quintets.

The best known quartet from this set is the fifth, known as The Lark from the initial entry of the first violin in the eighth bar in the high register used from time to time in these quartets. 

Heard in our two posts and YouTube selections, the Aeolian Quartet was a highly reputed string quartet based in London (UK), with a long international touring history and presence, an important recording and broadcasting profile. It was the successor of the pre-War Stratton Quartet, adopting its new name in the late 1940s and disbanding in 1981.

The Quartet made many recordings, but is especially noted for this complete Haydn cycle, which included the dubious op 3 series, and an account of the Seven Last Words From The Cross with poetic readings by Peter Pears. ( 
Of course, the times have changed since these were captured on vinyl (mid-1970’s), and there are excellent versions of these quartets available with both modern and period ensembles. However, the enduring quality of these performances is undeniable: everything seems perfect and royally balanced, ahead of the approach embraced by period groups. This is distinguished classicism, uncompromising but still colorful, cheerful and often, when necessary, infinitely deep.

Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 64

No. 1 - Quartet in C major, Hob.III:65 
No. 2 - Quartet in B minor, Hob.III:68 
No. 3 - Quartet in B♭ major, Hob.III:67 
No. 4 - Quartet in G major, Hob.III:66 
No. 5 - Quartet in D major ("The Lark"), , Hob.III:63 
No. 6 - Quartet in E♭ major, Hob.III:64

The Aeolian String Quartet:

Emanuel Hurwitz & Raymond Keenlyside - Violins
Margaret Major - Viola
Derek Simpson - Cello

Tracks from Disks 4-6 of "Joseph Haydn, Aeolian String Quartet ‎– Haydn String Quartets Volume 6 [Op.20 & Op.64]"
London Records ‎– STS15447-52-6



Friday, December 5, 2014

Magyar rapszódiák, Part One

No. 176 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

For the next couple of weeks, I wanted to spend some time considering a set of works that – for the most part – are both well-known and fun to listen to.

The Hungarian Rhapsodies constitute a set of 19 piano pieces based on Hungarian folk themes, composed by Franz Liszt during 1846–1853, and later in 1882 and 1885. Liszt also arranged versions for orchestra, piano duet and piano trio.

Some are better known than others, with Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 being particularly famous.

Liszt incorporated many themes he had heard in his native western Hungary and which he believed to be folk music, though many were in fact contemporary tunes written by members of the Hungarian upper middle class, or by composers of the time, and performed publically by Roma (Gypsy) bands.
The large scale structure of each was influenced by the verbunkos, a Hungarian dance in several parts, each with a different tempo. Within this structure, Liszt preserved the two main structural elements of typical Gypsy improvisation—the lassan ("slow") and the friska ("fast"). At the same time, Liszt incorporated a number of effects unique to the sound of Gypsy bands, especially the pianistic equivalent of the cimbalom.

In their original piano form, the Hungarian Rhapsodies are noted for their difficulty. As is the norm for much of Liszt’s piano solo output, the thinking has to have been to use these works to showcase and display his legendary technique at the keyboard.

All nineteen rhapsodies will not fit our usual 75 to 90 minute podcast format, so I had to come up with a logical way of splitting them up over two podcasts… To do so, I chose to consider first the orchestral versions of the rhapsodies.

Indeed, Rhapsodies no. 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, and 14 were arranged for orchestra by Franz Doppler, with revisions by Liszt himself. These orchestrations appear as S.359 in the Searle catalogue; however, the numbers given to these versions were different from their original numbers. The orchestral rhapsodies numbered 1-6 correspond to the piano solo versions numbered 14, 2, 6, 12, 5 and 9 respectively.

In my record collection, I have two sets of these orchestral rhapsodies – one by Kurt Mazur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra (from the mid-80’s) and a second as part of a two-disc set of Liszt orchestral music performed by the orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper (the Vienna Philharmonic under an assumed name, from the late 1950’s) under the legendary Herrmann Scherchen, whose rough-and-ready style is suits the mood of these pieces so well. Our montage features the latter, in a digitally restored version.

Back next week with the other 13, in piano form.

I think you will love this music too!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Programming - December 2015


Monthly Theme

The year 2014 comes to an end (already!) and our line-up for December offers what I hope is a “lighter” load for the holidays. Our main feature this month is a “complete” set of Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, both for the orchestra and the piano. I think – if we combine our Once Upon the Internet post, we will cover all but a couple of the rhapsodies in their piano version.

Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

This month, I will “consolidate” the posts on the rhapsodies for a mid-month OTF, and propose listening to a vintage performance of Handel’s Messiah.

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

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Friday, November 28, 2014

In Memoriam: Claudio Abbado (1933 - 2014)

No. 175 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast175- Playlist

To conclude our November series of tribute-montages, we now turn to Claudio Abbado. In a way,  this is our second tribute to the Italian maestro, if you count our earlier post on  Verdi's Requiem Mass.

Claudio Abbado is born in Milan (1933) into a family of musicians: his father was a violinist, his mother is a pianist and his brother Marcello will later lead the same Milan Conservatory where his father taught and where Claudio studied piano, composition and conducting after WWII and until 1955.

After Milan, Claudio leaves for Vienna to further study piano (with Friedrich Gulda) and conducting (with Hans Swarowsky). During these studies, he will befriend fellow students Martha Argerich and Zubin Mehta. He will even sing in the Viennese Singverein where he will have a great vantage point to study the conducting of the likes of Hermann Scherchen, Josef Krips, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan.

In 1958, Abbado enters the Koussevitzky competition at Tanglewood and will win First Prize (over his friend Mehta). He returns to Italy briefly and, in order to kick start a career, chooses to enter a second American conducting competition, the Mitropoulos in New-York, where he will not only win in 1963, but get the opportunity to apprentice under Leonard Bernstein at the New-York Philharmonic. He and Seiji Ozawa will have the opportunity to be featured in Bernstein’s Young Artists concerts, getting instant attention.

Abbado cements his reputation and wins appointments in Europe - La Scala, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Staatsoper and in 1988, he is named Karajan’s successor at the Berlin Philharmonic, embarking in a major overhaul of the orchestra’s membership and programming. His fresh, laid-back approach wins him favour with many around the orchestra, and after 15 years as its Music Director, he announces his plans to step down. At that time, however, Abbado is struck with stomach cancer 0 which he will battle until his death this year. Although he returns frequently to conduct in Berlin, he devotes his energies to the Lucerne Festival and founds the Mozart Orchestra in Bologna.

Abbado’s repertoire – and discography – is quite impressive and diverse. He is at ease in classical and modern music, in concert pieces and operas. Our modest sampling today shows him conducting Tchaikovsky early (with the New Philharmonia) and late (with the Chicago Symphony) in his career. Also from his early days, we feature his stellar collaboration with Martha Argerich in their “reference” performance of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

In Memoriam: Lorin Maazel (1930 - 2014)

No. 174 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast174- Playlist


The Friday Blog and Podcast returns for two more tribute-montages by artists we have lost earlier this year. In this case, our two montages (today and next Friday) look at two conductors.

In past posts, I have often discussed the generaton of conductirs born around 1915, names like Bernstein, Karajan, Giulini ans so many nore. These me, directly or indirectly, helped mould the generation of conductors born between 1930 and1940, such as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa and Daniel Barenboim. We should add to that list two recently decease conductors: Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel.

Without wanting to necessarily compare these two men, there are some interesting points to consider. Both have a Berlin connecton (Maazel led the Radio Symphony made famous by Ferenc Fricsay, Abbado succeedsà Karajan at the helm of the Philharmoniker) and both left us substantial dicsographies.

However, these are two very different men, who approached their crafts in very different ways. Maazel was the autocratic, exacting task master, and Abbado is more of a "regular guy", easy going and latin in his fervor for the music. In a sense, Abbado is Stokowski, Maazel is Toscanini.
Maazel was born to AMerican parents living abroad (Paris, actually), and starts off as a winderkind: violin lessons at fivem conducting lessosn (no less!) at seven, and as a pint-sized conductor, he's invited to lead the NBC Symphony (at Toscanini's invitation) at twelve.

But the life of a child musician isn't what Maazel has in mind - playing outdoors and doing what other kids his age do is more his speed, and so he "retires" at 15. A bookworm, Maazel chooses to read literature at the University of Pittsburgh and - to make some pocket money - he enlists in the string section of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

One has to think that this second kick at msic, and encounters with some of the great consuctors and artists making t through STeeltown, give Maazel the bug, and he chooses to study early music (as a Fulbright scholar) in Italy. He moves to Europe, and from there re-launches a career as conductor.

After moving around, guesting on some of Europe's great podiums, he will finally take on his own orchestras there and later in America. Of note, stints as director of the Berlin RSO  (1964–1975), l’Orchestre National de France (1977-1990), Cleveland (1977-1990) and New-York (2002-2009).

A conductor renowned for his great ear, he was a respected and sought conductor of the Romantic repertoire -  Mahler, Sibelius, Puccini or Richard Strauss, usually conducting without a score. The Vinna Phulharonic, which doesn't have a director per se, invited Maazel regularly, and he had the honour of conducting their New Year concerts 11 times between 1980 and 2005 (nine times with a violin in hand). 

However, Maazel does have his critics - his exacting styule often criticized as favouring form over expression, and his autocratic ways alienating players (according to Dohnanyi who succeeded hin in Cleveland, musicians pointed out that Maazel often simply kept the beat rather than elicit phrasing).

The Maazel legacy is still quite impressive - Beethioven and Rachmaninov cycles (Cleveland and Berlin, respecrtively), the first complete recording of Porgy and Bess, and so many performances with so many orchestras, captured for us to enjoy.
Today, I chose Richard Strauss and George Gershwin (with the Cleveland Orchestra), the Dvořák, Eighth (with the Vienna Philharmonic) and Maazel accompanying Gidon Kremer on the violinist's debut recording for DGG.

I think you will live this music too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dimitry Markevitch on MP3.COM

This is my Tuesday Blog from Nov 18, 2014.

Today’s Once Upon the Internet unearths some tracks recorded by the Swiss-Ukrainian cellist, author and musicologist Dimitry Markevitch. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because he’s the younger brother of the renowned conductor, Igor Markevitch.

Born in Switzerland of Ukrainian parents, Dimirty Markevitch (1923–2002) started cello at age six. He studied with Maurice Eisenberg at the École Normale in Paris and then at Tanglewood with Gregor Piatigorsky, who had first befriended and taught Markevitch at age seven.

After playing in the New York Philharmonic for five years, Markevitch returned to Paris, teaching at the École Normale, directing the Conservatoire Rachmaninoff, and even managing a sewing-machine plant.

Markevitch rediscovered several important manuscripts, including Westphal and Kellner transcriptions of several Bach Suites, and published his own edition of the Suites, playing all six in recital at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1964.

He also unearthed two previously unknown pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven: the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, Opus 64 (based on his string trio, op. 3), and the Kreutzer Sonata, transcribed for cello by Czerny.

He contributed to editions of pieces by MussorgskyDe FallaStravinsky, and Shostakovich and wrote Cello Story, a book on the history and repertoire of the cello.

He was one of the first people to champion "authentic" instrumental techniques and played a baroque cello for pieces composed before the 19th century. He specialized in works for the solo cello and his book The Solo Cello is a comprehensive guide to the subject.

Among the works I retained you will find two of the Bach solo cello suites, and two Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano – he op. 64 he’s credited with rediscovering and the op. 17 (originally set for horn, but also adapted by Ludwig for the cello.)

Happy Listening!

All works performed by DImitry Markevitch, cello with Daniel Spiegelberg, piano (Beethoven sonatas)

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite for Cello solo no 5 in C minor, BWV 1011

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in F major, Op. 17 (for Cello and Piano)

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite for Cello solo no 6 in D major, BWV 1012

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in E flat major, Op. 64

Hyperlink (Internet Archive) :

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Day in Music History: 14 November 1940

No. 173 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast173 Playlist

Earlier this week, we paused to remember the many soldiers who lost their lives in armed conflict. As I tried to explain in my Tuesday post, we should not confuse “war” and “warfighters”. Yes, warfighters are in the business of war, but whether they are full-time members of the Armed Forces or part-time Reservists, these people are also pursuing a career, an honourable one at that, where their skills are not only used in armed conflict, but also in humanitarian pursuits. It is a selfless – and sometimes under-appreciated – job, where people are asked to put their lives on the line for others, and this is something that deserves our support and admiration.
As part of my everyday business, I have dealt with members of Armed Forces from all over the Western world, and I’m yet to meet a professional soldier (or aviator, or sailor) who “likes” war. War, if and when it happens, is their job, nothing more, nothing less.
The reason why I take time here to bring this up is, simply, because I don’t think that anybody – in or out of Uniform – is indifferent to the horrors of war. It is in that context that I present today’s work, and its “anti war” message. I am anti-war, but not anti-warfighter.

On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices. The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction; rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.
Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the new cathedral, designed by Basil Spence and built along side the ruins of the original millenium-old structure, was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The reconsecration was an occasion for an arts festival, for which Michael Tippett wrote his opera King Priam and for which Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write a piece.

The Festival gave Britten a free hand in his choice of the genre of work, and he took the opportunity to fulfil a long-term general scheme to write a major choral work that had been at the back of his mind since the late 1940s. Of greater personal significance for Britten, however, was the platform the Coventry commission gave him to make a public statement about his strongly held pacifist beliefs. In War Requiem, Britten could speak out in opposition to war, violence and inhumanity. The resulting work was not meant to be a pro-British piece or a glorification of British soldiers, but a public statement of Britten's anti-war convictions. It was a denunciation of the wickedness of war, not of other men. The piece was also meant to be a warning to future generations of the senselessness of taking up arms against fellow men.
The fact that Britten wrote the piece for three specific soloists -- a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and a British tenor (Peter Pears) -- demonstrated that he had more than the losses of his own country in mind, and symbolized the importance of reconciliation. (Unfortunately Vishnevskaya was not available for the first performance, and had to be replaced by Heather Harper).
Britten dedicated the work to Roger Burney (Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve), Piers Dunkerley (Captain, Royal Marines), David Gill (Ordinary Seaman, Royal Navy), and Michael Halliday (Lieutenant, Royal New Zealand Volunteer Reserve). Burney and Halliday, who died in the war, were friends of Peter Pears and Britten, respectively. Dunkerley, "one of Britten's closest friends, took part in the 1944 Normandy landings. Unlike the other dedicatees, he survived the war but committed suicide in June 1959, two months before his wedding.

For the text of the War Requiem, Britten interspersed the Latin Mass for the Dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen, a World War I footsoldier who was killed a week before the Armistice. Owen wrote of his poetry: "I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense conciliatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful."
Much of the impact of the anti-war message of War Requiem lay in Britten’s strategic placing of his Owen settings in relation to the Latin Mass, where the horrors of the poet’s experience in the trenches are used to undermine the ritual mourning of church and state.

The musical forces are divided into three groups that alternate and interact with each other throughout the piece, finally fully combining at the end of the last movement. The soprano soloist and choir are accompanied by the full orchestra, the baritone and tenor soloists are accompanied by the chamber orchestra, and the boys' choir is accompanied by a small positive organ (this last group ideally being situated at some distance from the full orchestra). This group produces a very strange, distant sound. The soprano and choir and the boys' choir sing the traditional Latin Requiem text, while the tenor and baritone sing poems by Wilfred Owen, interspersed throughout.
Against the background of contemporary anxieties about the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, the expansion of hostilities in the Vietnam War, and the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1964, Britten’s lament for the dead of two world wars and the consequences of war could not have been more timely, and the socio-political climate of the early 1960s undoubtedly made its own contribution to War Requiem’s international success.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In Memoriam: Carlo Bergonzi (1924 - 2014)

No. 172 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


With the exception of next week’s podcast of Brittten’s War Requiem, all of our montages this month pay tribute to artists we have lost over the last calendar year. To begin, we take a few moments to remember the great Italian operatic tenor Carlo Bergonzi who died on 25 July 2014, aged 90. The below highlights are stolen from his obituary.
There was no finer interpreter of Donizetti's, Verdi's and Puccini's tenor roles throughout his long career than Carlo Bergonzi. His singing of all three composers' music evinced an innate sense of how to mould an immaculate line projected on a long breath, an exemplary clarity of diction, and an authoritative use of the particular style called for in interpreting a role. Over and over again, you could hear, and can still hear on his many recordings, how to shape a phrase and to do so with a voice of intrinsic beauty, flawlessly produced, so no effort seemed involved. Far from being a macho tenor, he was the aristocrat of the breed and as such universally admired, even if he did not evoke the visceral excitement of his near-contemporaries, Franco Corelli and Luciano Pavarotti.

He was born in Vidalenzo, northern Italy, and looked likely to become a cheesemaker like his father until his voice was discovered. After service in the Italian army during WWII, and a period as a prisoner of Germany, he trained as a baritone and began his professional life in that mode, making his debut as Rossini's Figaro in 1948. By 1950 he concluded that he might really be a tenor and retrained, making his first appearance in his new range in Giordano's Andrea Chénier in 1951, the year he was also engaged to sing a tenor part in I Due Foscari for Italian radio celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Verdi's death. The voice still sounds there a shade tentative, but by 1953, when Bergonzi made his debut at La Scala and appeared, as Don Alvaro, in La Forza del Destino at the old Stoll theatre, London, the transformation was complete. He was acclaimed as a new tenor of real worth.
In 1956 he made his debut, as Radames in Aida, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and continued to sing there for more than 30 years, evidence of the security of his technique and the fact that he was careful not to force his voice out of its natural range and strength. One of his last roles, in 1988, was Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, suitably enough as his account of the famous tenor aria in that opera was always a model of Verdian style.

Bergonzi was just as affecting in a lighter vein. His Nemorino (L'Elisir d'Amore), caught late in his career, at the Royal Opera House, in 1981, was endearing. His performances, in recital, of Italian song were enchanting in their intimacy and delicacy of manner. Pieces such as Mascagni's Serenata or Tosti's L'Alba Separa Dalle Luce L'Ombra were the pure essence of Bergonzi, and he delighted in conveying his joy in singing them to his audiences.
Bergonzi recorded extensively. His lasting memorial will surely be his performance for Philips of all the tenor arias in Verdi's operas. His sovereign Alvaro is preserved on an EMI set of La Forza del Destino, his Radames on Herbert von Karajan's Decca set of Aida, his classic Rodolfo on a Decca Bohème, and his Cavaradossi on Callas's second set of Tosca, for EMI. These, plus a legendary recital dating from 1958 for Decca, provide the essence of his great art.

Today’s montage really has three distinct parts. The first few selections are of Neapolitan songs, a fine display indeed of Bergonzi’s ability to project and use his voice to convey the bittersweet feelings often carried by those ballads. Listen closely to how the voice trembles at the climax of Cardillo’s ode to the ungrateful heart. What a voice!
An extended portion of the montage is dedicated to an entire recital of Bergonzi singing music from the Italian baroque, and baroquie opera. Again, these are conveyed with such conviction, elevating these songs to the level of the late romantic composers that will follow them.

Of course, a tribute to Bergonzi would be incomplete without sampling him in Verdi arias. Nobody – I mean nobody – sings Verdi with such verve and passion, none before, and none since.

I think you will love this music too.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Programming - November 2014


Monthly Theme

This month, per our yearly tradition on ITYWLTMT, we pause to pay tribute to those we have lost. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War and – especially following the recent tragic events in Ottawa – we have some planned posts around Remembrance.
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight
Expect a tandem post of the War Requiem podcast and Verdi’s Ernani, featuring the voice of the great Carlo Bergonzi (subject of an earlier tribute this month).

NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Opera on Broadway

No. 171 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast171- Playlist

Earlier in this month’s series of podcasts, I spent some time looking at operetta as the light-hearted cousin of what we have come to call “Grand Opera”. At that time, I had hinted to a relationship between operetta and the Musical Comedy, a genre that has taken root on American stages and on the Silver Screen.

The Musical has its fair share of – shall I say – bold and ambitious works, in a scale not unlike operetta or opera. The works that come to mind are Show Boat (Hammerstein and Kern) and West Side Story (Sondheim, Laurents and Bernstein). We could add – for not too dissimilar reasons – Hair (Rado, Ragni and MacDermott), Jesus Christ, Superstar (Rice and Lloyd-Webber) or even Rent (Larson) or Tommy (The Who) all credited as “Rock Operas.

Many of the stated works are indeed ambitious, but they were all designed (at least, originally) as “musicals” and not as operas, though some of these works have been staged by opera companies.
However, there are few stages in New York City available to mount operas. There’s the Met, the New-York City Opera, or even some of the music schools which offer opera training programs. As a result, it should not be surprising that there have been operas staged on theatres that line the Great White Way. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess had its original 1035 New-York run on Broadway (Alvin Theatre), for example. According to an article, written in 1946, Kurt Weill, expressed rthis opinion:

When I first came to the United States eleven years ago, I became rapidly convinced that the Broadway legitimate stage is to the American public what the opera and concert halls are to the European. With that thought in mind, I have repeatedly aimed my music at the Broadway stage, and today I am convinced that the American public is ready to accept its own form of grand opera on the legitimate stage. […] In Europe, opera houses and legitimate theatres are subsidized by the state. I was able to compose for them and be assured of a hearing for my works. By the time I was twenty-six I had operas in virtually every major companyís repertoire in Germany. But I was playing to a limited public. My adaptation of the Three Penny Opera (on The Beggar's Opera theme) and its world success opened my eyes to the vast possibilities in an audience which did not seek opera as its daily fare.
Another composer who understood this equation was the Italian-American Gian-Carlo Menotti.  According to NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman, "Menotti thought it was crucial to bring opera to a large popular audience. He once wrote, 'If I insist on bringing my operas to Broadway, it is simply because of the letters I receive which begin, "Dear Mr. Menotti, I have never seen an opera until tonight." ' "

Menotti’s The Consul opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway in 1949, earning him not only a Broadway hit but also a Pulitzer Prize.

A couple of years earlier, between May and November 1947, the Ethel Barrymore Theatre presented 212 performances of an operatic double-feature of The Medium and The Telephone, both short oiperas by Menotti (Internet Broadway Database reference here). Before that, the pair was staged at the Heckscher Theatre by The Ballet Society in February of that year.

Today’s podcast presents this double-bill, featuring the 1947 Broadway cast in a studio recording supervised by Menotti and conducted by Emanuel Balaban. The two works could not be more different in terms of atmosphere. Aptly programmed for our Hallowe’en podcast, The Medium, introduces us to a woman who has posed as a person who can contacts spirits (but is shown to use trickery) starting to hear voices and feel phantom presences she cannot explain. The Telephone is a light-hearted piece where a man comes to his girlfriend's apartment to propose, only to find her preoccupied with talking on the telephone.

Both works have their twist endings – albeit the a propos ending in the tragic Medium is predictable. The works are sung in English, so I can dispense with a detailed synopsis. Here are some links to synopses and libretti for these operas:

I think you will love this music too.