Friday, February 28, 2014

Programming - March 2014


Monthly Theme

March 5th is Ash Wednesday, and thus our yearly Lenten programming of organ and sacred selections will occupy much of March and April (as Easter is April 20th this year).
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

Our complete opera this month will be Radamisto by Handel, and a "Tandem" post of my Gloria! montage.

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

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Montage #145– Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963)

As of  March 28, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


From time to time, we come to discuss conductors who are part of a “Great Generation” – those who were born around World War I, who blossomed in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, and who still today conjure a great age of symphonic music which mirrored the leaps and bounds of recording technology around World War II which eventually gave us landmark MONO recordings, stereophonic sound, and later digital technology.

The list of these great artists reads as a Who’s Who of the conductors that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century: Bernstein, Karajan, Giulini, Kubelik, and you may include in there some that were born in the 1920’s such as Boulez. As is the case with all great generations, there are those that, like a shooting star, lit brightly only to leave us at a young age. In a past post, wediscussed the short career of Guido Cantelli in that context, and today we turn to another such bright light who died too young, Ferenc Fricsay.

Fricsay was born in Budapest in 1914 and studied music under Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Leo Weiner. With these and other faculty at the Budapest Academy of Music he studied piano, violin, clarinet, trombone, percussion, composition and conducting. Fricsay made his first appearance as a conductor at age 15, substituting for his father at the podium of the Young Musicians Orchestra of Budapest. In 1930, at the age of 16, he succeeded his father as conductor of the Young Musicians Orchestra.

Unlike Cantelll, however, Fricsay left us with a great number of recordings, thanks in large part to his work right after World War II, and this is where our post begins – not in Budapest where Fricsay was born, trained and lived underground during the war – but rather in Berlin.

Post-War Berlin is in a fragmented state – geopolitically and culturally. As go the spoils of war, so did Berlin get divided into distinct “sectors”; the Soviet victors of the Battle of Berlin immediately occupied all of Berlin. They handed the American, British and French sectors (later known as West Berlin) to the American and British Forces in July 1945: the French occupied their sector a little later. Berlin remained divided until reunification in 1990.

Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor (In English: Broadcasting in the American Sector) or simply RIAS was a radio and television station founded in 1946 in the American Sector of Berlin during the Cold War. The station's importance was magnified during the 1948 Berlin blockade, when it carried the message of Allied determination to resist Soviet intimidation.

After the Berlin blockade, RIAS evolved into a surrogate home service for East Germans, as it broadcast news, commentary, and cultural programs that were unavailable in the controlled media of the German Democratic Republic. RIAS  maintained a large research component during the Cold War, and interviewed travellers from East Germany and compiled material from the East German Communist media, and broadcast programs for specific groups in East Germany, such as youth, women, farmers, even border guards. RIAS had a huge audience in East Germany and was the most popular foreign radio service. Listening to it in Soviet-controlled East Germany was discouraged. As was the case everywhere else, the listening audience began to shrink only when West German television became widely available to viewers in East Germany.

An orchestra, known as the RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester was also established by the US forces, and still exists (for a while as the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and now as the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin), as well as a professional chamber choir, the RIAS-Kammerchor (originally founded as the Rundfunkchor des RIAS).

Ferenc Fricsay  - who led the Budapest Opera and Philharmonic after the Second World War for a short time - was the founding conductor of the orchestra, which remained his primary appointment (1948–1954; 1959–1963) until he succumbed to stomach cancer in February 1963 at the age of 48.

Fricsay was known for his interpretations of the music of Mozart and Beethoven, as well as that of his teachers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. He conducted without a baton, according to the entry in New Grove, but "confounded the adverse critics of this technique by the extreme clarity and precision of his performances," to which it also ascribes "a dynamic spirit" and "vividness of character in familiar classics."  From the 1950s until his death, he recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon record label.

Our titles today include one such (mono) recording – a very crisp performance of Haydn’s Symphony no. 95. The majority of the montage is dedicated to a special live concert staged for RIAS, dating 29 September 1959 of Mozart’s Great Mass in C, K. 427 which served as a public “full dress rehearsal” for his commercial inscription that DGG made the next day.

In a letter to his father Leopold dated 4 January 1783, Mozart mentioned a vow he had made to write a Mass when he would bring his then fiancée Constanze as his wife to Salzburg; Constanze then sang the "Et incarnatus est" at its premiere. The magnificent work, composed 1782-17883 for an unusual vocal quartet–two sopranos, tenor, and bass– is an “unfinished” mass, missing all of the Credo following the aria "Et incarnatus est" (the orchestration of the Credo is also incomplete) and all of the Agnus Dei. The Sanctus is partially lost and requires editorial reconstruction. There is a good deal of speculation concerning why the work was left unfinished. Given the absolute necessity of a complete text for liturgical use, it is likely that Mozart spliced in movements from his earlier Masses for the premiere.  

Fricsay leads an inspired and spirited performance of the Mass, leaving it “unfinished” (as the composer had left it) without speculating as to how Mozart would have turned the fragmentary work into a full liturgical setting. The only creative license here was turning over one of the soprano voices to Austrian contralto Hertha Topper.

I Think you will love this music too. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Montage #144– César Franck (1822-1890)

As of  March 21, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:



Last year as part of some of our Organ posts, I featured works by the French-Belgian composer Cesar Franck, and discussed where Franck sat within the “pecking order” of the French music scene – which  has always included a strong teaching and apprentice component to it.

Because he was born in Belgium, though he had lived and worked in France for all his adult life, he had to apply for French citizenship in 1872 in order to be granted a faculty position at the Paris Conservatoire. Many of his original circle of students had studied or were studying at the Conservatoire, among the most notable in later life were Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc. This group became increasingly tight-knit in their mutual esteem and affection between teacher and pupils. d'Indy relates that independently but unanimously each new student came to call their professor Père Franck.

On the other hand, Franck experienced some tensions in his faculty life: he tended to teach composition as much as he did organ performance and improvisation; he was considered unsystematic in his teaching techniques ("Franck never taught by means of hard and fast rules or dry, ready-made theories"), with an offhand attitude towards the official texts and books approved by the Conservatoire; and his popularity among some students provoked some jealousy among his fellow professors and some counter-claims of bias on the part of those professors when judging Franck's pupils for the various prizes, including the Prix de Rome.

Because of his prowess as an organist and improviser, Franck is best remembered for his organ compositions. The most brilliant of Franck's compositions were written during the final decade of his life; the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, the famous Violin Sonata, the D major String Quartet, and, perhaps most important, the Symphony in D minor are all the products of a single, remarkable five-year period.

One of his most ambitious works, Psyché—a vast "symphonic poem" for chorus and orchestra in seven movements—was composed in at his vacation retreat at Combs-la-Ville-Quincy over the summer of 1886, the orchestration was completed the following summer..

The story is drawn from the second century Metamorphoses (often translated as The Golden Ass) of Lucius Apuleius which tells of Eros' nocturnally veiled love for the mortal Psyche, Psyche's wish to behold her lover face to face, and the lovers' parting and reconciliation. In Franck's retelling, Psyché first dreams of Éros, then is carried by zephyrs to Éros' secret garden, where the orchestra enacts a rapturous love duet. Rarely performed in its original form, the main orchestral sections are often presented as a “suite” – as is the case in today’s montage.

One of the glitterati of the French music scene, Louis Diémer (1843-1919) had taken the piano part in Franck's Victor Hugo-inspired Les Djinns, for piano and orchestra, on March 15, 1885; he earned for the composer a rare positive review from the press. Franck was delighted and credited his success to Diémer's brilliant playing which he promised to reward with "a little something." Good to his word, Franck dedicated his orchestration of the Variations symphoniques to Diémer.

Today viewed as a masterpiece of French orchestral repertoire, the three-movement Symphony, by no means an immediate success with critics or audiences, has nevertheless become so fused with the popular image of César Franck that it is nearly impossible to think of him without also thinking of this 40-minute orchestral juggernaut.

I think you will love this music too.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

OTF - Der Freischütz

This is my Once or Twice a Fortnight post from February 15th, 2014. The content of this post was updated since ts initial publication.

Our OTF Opera spotlight feeds into our overall February theme on ITYWLTMT and the Tuesday Blog which discusses topics that have in common the letter “F”.

Carl Maria von Weber is considered one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school; he is remembered for his complex piano sonatas, his works for clarinet and his seminal operas. According to Wikipedia, Weber's operas Der FreischützEuryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. Der Freischütz came to be regarded as the first German "nationalist" opera, Euryanthe developed the Leitmotif technique decades before Wagner and others took it to the greatest heights, while Oberon may have influenced Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and, at the same time, revealed Weber's lifelong interest in the music of non-Western cultures.

In German folklore, a Freischütz (loosely translated as "Freeshooter" or "Marksman Who Doesn't Need to Aim"),by contract with the devil, has obtained a certain number of bullets destined to hit without fail whatever object he wishes. As the legend is usually told, six of the magic bullets (German: Freikugeln, literally "free bullets"), are thus subservient to the marksman's will, but the seventh is at the absolute disposal of the devil himself.

Stories about the Freischütz were especially common during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, but the tale became widely circulated in 1811 when Johann August Apel included it as the first tale in the Gespensterbuch (or “Book of Ghosts”). Apel's tale formed the subject of Weber's opera, following his librettist Johann Friedrich Kind’s suggestion that this setting of the story would make an excellent plot for an opera.

And he was right - despite, or perhaps because of, its lack of musical pretension, the reception of Der Freischütz surpassed Weber's own hopes and it quickly became an international success, with productions in Vienna shortly after the Berlin premiere in 1821, followed by Leipzig, Karlsruhe, Prague, other German centres, and Copenhagen. Among the many artists influenced by Der Freischütz was a young Richard Wagner (one can see the rapprochement between Freischutz and Wagner’s use of the supernatural in his operas), and Berlioz prepared a French version with recitatives for a production at the Paris Opera in 1841, revived 170 years later at the Paris Opéra-Comique in 2011.

Sometimes, in retrospect, history doesn't tell the full story about a work of art. Today's audiences tend to be a bit more sophisticated, but those who relax and leave expectations behind can still enjoy this magical story. This melodramatic tale has the feel of a campfire story, the sort of crowd-pleasing thriller found throughout the dramatic 

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 –1826)
Der Freischütz, op. 77 (J. 277)
Opera in three acts, German libretto by Friedrich Kind

Max         Hans Hopf
Kilian Kurt Marschner
Kuno Heiner Horn
Kaspar Max Proebstl
Ännchen Rita Streich
Agathe Elisabeth Grummer

WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln 
Erich Kleiber, conducting
(WDR radio production, 1955)

Part 1 – Tracks 1-23 [Overture, Act 1, Act 2 (beginning)]

Part 2 – Tracks 24-41 [Act 2 (conclusion), Entr'acte, Act 3]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Montage #143– Frédéric

As of  March 14, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


For Valendtine's Day, keeping with "F" for February, some romantic piano music by the greatest Romantics of all, Chopin.

Woth he exceprion of our ast track - the not-too-subtle homage to Chopin by Quebec's Claude Lévillée, all of the tracks are from Chopin himself, and the vast majority from one album dating almost 50 years... After Chopin interpretations in our podcasts by the likes of Géza AndaVladimir Ashkenazy and ArturRubinstein, we now add Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz.

Hard to imagine it;s aloready been 25 years since Horowitz passed away. A few selections from our montage come from his "last recording".

As I saud earlier, the bulk of the montage is from the "Legendary 1965 recording" by Martha Argerich. Mrs Argerich is not only a gifted and powerful interpreter, she is also a two-time Cancer Survivor, one of many tests that life has thrown her way in a fantastic career that spans more than 50 years. The album is closely associated with her First Prize at the Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw that same year.

Mrs Argerich prefers to collaborate with artists (in concerto and chamber settings), so these solo recital albums are few and far between, and usually worth the listen!

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fleet Fingers of Ruggerio Ricci

This is a past Tuesday Blog from Feb-11-2014. 

This month, I have programmed two Once Upon the Internet posts. This week’s completes last week's audition of the complete Caprices for Solo Violin by Paganini, in the legendary first recording by American violinist Ruggerio Ricci.

Born in San Francisco in 1918, Ricci began learning the violin at age six and was taught by Yehudi Menuhin's teacher, Louis Persinger. A recognized child prodigy, and winner of local violin competitions, made his full recital debut in his home city in 1928 and went to study in Berlin before returning home to work with Persinger again.

Soon established as a touring violinist, he took a hiatus during World War II to join the Army Air Force, becoming an "entertainment specialist" who played for the troops. All told, he went on to perform more than 5,000 concerts in 65 countries.

Ricci taught at Indiana University, the Juilliard School, the University of Michigan and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.
His many recordings include works by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. However he is best known best known for his association with Paganini and was sometimes referred to as the Paganini of the 20th Century.

In 1947, Ricci was the first violinist to record the complete 24 Caprices, Op. 1, by Paganini, in their original form. Ricci's first recording – our feature - was on the Shellac recording label (he later made three other recordings of the Caprices, including his 1997 recording on Paganini's own Guarneri, Il Cannone, on loan to him by the City of Genoa, Italy.).

More Paganini with Ricci (Violiin Concerto no. 2):

More on Ricci on his official website:

Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840) 
Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1
Ruggerio Ricci, violin

Friday, February 7, 2014

Montage #142 – Arthur Fiedler

As of  March 7, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


Our theme this month is “F” for February, and our four montages will explore four individual who share the initial.

It seems that every major orchestra (in North-America at least) programs “Popular” concerts in their subscription series, and in lots of instances, the concerts are handed over to a “Pops conductor”. I don’t quite understand why that is – it’s almost as if there’s something ignoble about it…

When we consider (or even, in some cases, reminisce) about the so-called “renowned” Pops conductors – that is, those who have had something of a presence on disc: Erich Kunzel (who led most notably the Cincinati Pops), “Skitch” Henderson (who led the New-York Pops), Frederick Fennell (more remembered for his work with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, but credited with conducting the “Eastman-Rochester Pops”), and then there’s Arthur Fiedler.

Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops are forever “joined at the hip” – not to disrespect John Williams and Keith Lockhart who have since succeeded him at the podium of the orchestra, or even his assistant of many years Henry Ellis Dickson, or some of his arrangers turned pops conductors most notably Richard Hayman and Leroy Anderson.

Fiedler, in many ways, was a trend-setter: his genuine sense for the pops repertoire, his lovable nature and willingness to “play along” with some of the more outrageous publicity stunts and album covers come to mind. One thing that I must state, however, is that Fielder’s conducting and sense of musical vision weren't always up to the standards of his successors or even his contemporaries, but he did make up for it by relying on the prowess of his great orchestra, and it is clear from footage I’ve seen that Boston Symphony Music Directors – like Seiji Ozawa – appreciated his work and looked at the Pops as an opportunity for back-benchers to take on more prominent chairs.

Be it on stage, on disc (his premiere recording of Jacob Gade's Jalousie,  sold more than a million copie!)s, or on TV on “Evening at Pops”, Fiedler always managed to cobble together a program that included “Pops” repertoire, light classics and providing back-up for great singers and entertainers of the day.

Today’s montage is an attempt at providing  you with a taste of everything: medleys of show tunes penned by the likes of the aforementioned Hayman, Peter Bodge or Jack Mason, popular tunes arranged for orchestra, some light classics (iunclusing some original works like Leroy Anderson’s Belle at the Ball) and even a “Pops Sing-Along”!

One of the major works I added to the montage is Hershy Kay’s ballet Music for “Stars and Stripes”, a ballet he scored for George Balanchine inspired by the works of John-Philip Sousa. Fieldler’s most popular “encore” was after all “Start and Stripes Forever"

I Think you will Love This Music too!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Programming - February 2014


Monthly Theme

This month, let's have some fun with the letter "F" for February.
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

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

Ssubscribe to our ITYWLTMT Fan Page on Facebook

All of our Tuesday, Friday and ad-hoc posts, as well as OTF and YouTube Channel updates get regularly mentioned (with links) on our Fan Page. If you are a user of Facebook, simply subscribe to get notified so you never miss anything we do!