Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet in one act with three tableaux by Maurice Ravel described as a "symphonie chorégraphique" (lit. trans. choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from a romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD. The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé.

Commissioned for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, it premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 8 June 1912 under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux, choreography by Fokine, and Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the parts of Daphnis and Chloé.

At almost an hour long, the music (which requires a wordless SATB choir offstage) is widely regarded as some of Ravel's best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement. Even during the composer's lifetime, contemporary commentators described this ballet as his masterpiece for orchestra.

Ravel later extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites; the second of the suites, which includes much of the third tableau and concludes with the "Danse générale", is particularly popular.


A lot of the stuff I share here and my other platforms is planned for and prepared long in advance, and I’ve had this specific performance in the queue as it were for several months, predating some of the recent news about one of its main architects. Because of this very particular situation, I need to somehow provide a bit of an explanation – and disclaimer.

Years ago, I remember a very heated discussion among American Football fans around a particular linebacker who had shall I say a less-than-stellar off-field reputation involving the usual sex, drugs and domestic violence. In 1999, when Lawrence Taylor became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there were some concerns that his hard-partying lifestyle and drug abuse would hurt his candidacy. These concerns proved to be ill-founded, however, as he was voted in on the first ballot. The feeling at the time was that Taylor should be judged for his work on the field, and not for his off-field antics.

Maybe things would be different today, in the age of the #MeToo movement.

A television commentator asked recently whether or not we should still watch Kevin Spacey films, or listen to opera recordings featuring James Levine. It is a fair question indeed, and one which came up when I had to decide whether or not I should still program the much-lauded performance of Daphnis with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under Charles Dutoit’s artistic direction.

(Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I won’t discuss here the allegations that recently surfaced about the Swiss maestro and his off-stage behaviour. I cannot defend the indefensible, and won’t.)

The way I see it, notwithstanding Dutoit’s galvanizing vision of the work, this landmark recording is the result of outstanding technical achievements (kudos to the record producer Ray Minshull and lead sound engineer John Dunkerley), unforgettable playing by the orchestra’s principal flutist Timothy Hutchins, painstaking preparation by long-serving chorus master René Lacourse and, of course, puts in full display the virtuosity of the 80-plus members of the orchestra. It would be a shame to throw umbrage on their fine work simply because of the misdeeds of one person who happened to lead the orchestra at the podium and provided support during post-production with the technical team at London-Decca.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Please enjoy what in my mind is the reference recording of Ravel’s masterpiece.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé, MR 57
ballet in one act and three parts for orchestra and mixed chorus (without words)

Timothy Hutchins, solo flute
Choeurs de l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
(René Lacourse, chorus master)
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Charles Dutoit, conducting
Recording Location: St. Eustache, August 1980
London Records ‎– LDR 71028
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Released: 1981
Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros; JUNO Award – Canada; Prix mondial du disque de Montreux; Grand Prix du Disque – Canada; Japan Record Academy Award
Record details - https://www.discogs.com/Ravel-Ch%C5%...elease/3282006

Internet Archivehttps://archive.org/details/01DaphnisEtChloBalletEnUnAc

Friday, February 23, 2018

Classical Keyboard

No. 272 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast272


This week’s podcast completes our look at some of the great composers of the Classical era, with a specific focus on solo piano music.

The piano sonata occupies a large portion of the podcast, and for good reason. Like many “formulaic” works – the symphony comes to mind – the sonata finds its well-recognized structure under composers like Mozart, Haydn and later Beethoven and Schubert. Prior to the classical period, we can point to the many keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti as indicative of the sonata “in one movement” Another champion of the genre  was Padre Antonio Soler, a Spanish composer whose works span the late Baroque and early Classical music eras. He was an important contribution to the harpsichord, fortepiano and organ repertoire.

Padre Soler's most celebrated works are his keyboard sonatas, which are comparable to those composed by Scarlatti (with whom he may have studied). However, Soler's works are more varied in form than those of Scarlatti, with some pieces in three or four movements; Scarlatti's pieces are in one or two movements. Soler's sonatas were catalogued in the early twentieth century by Fr. Samuel Rubio and so all have 'R' numbers assigned. Today’s podcast opens with a few of Soler’s sonatas played on a modern piano.

Influenced by Scarlatti's harpsichord school and Haydn's classical school and by the stile galante of Johann Christian Bach and Ignazio Cirri, Muzio Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists, including John Field, Johann Baptist Cramer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Carl Czerny – many of these names were featured in recent podcasts He was a notable influence on Ludwig van Beethoven. Clementi also produced and promoted his own brand of pianos and was a notable music publisher.

Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas; some of the earlier and easier ones were later classified as sonatinas after the success of his Sonatinas Op. 36. However, most of Clementi's sonatas are more difficult to play than those of Mozart, who wrote in a letter to his sister that he would prefer her not to play Clementi's sonatas due to their jumped runs, and wide stretches and chords, which he thought might ruin the natural lightness of her hand.

Schubert's Impromptus are a series of eight pieces for solo piano composed in 1827. They were published in two sets of four impromptus each, catalogued as D. 899 and D. 935 respectively. They are considered to be among the most important examples of this popular early 19th-century genre.

Today’s podcast features the second set. As the first and last pieces in this set are in the same key (F minor), and the set bears some resemblance to a 4-movement sonata, these Impromptus have been accused of being a sonata in disguise, notably by Robert Schumann and Alfred Einstein. However, this claim has been disputed by contemporary musicologists such as Charles Fisk, who established important differences between the set of Impromptus and Schubert's acknowledged multi-movement works. It is also believed that the set was originally intended to be a continuation of the previous set, as Schubert originally numbered them as Nos. 5–8.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Project 366 - Mozart Gets My GOAT, too

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

In the spirit of fairness, I claimed that Mozart had my GOAT in the Summer of 2015...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty.

At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons.

He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence on subsequent Western art music is profound.

Mozart Listener Guides

Listener Guide #154 – “Walter Gieseking Plays Mozart”

Mozart left us with a rich catalog for the solo piano as well as 27 “numbered” piano concertos and chamber works that place the piano in a predominant role. The Mozart catalog features 18 “numbered” sonatas for solo piano, as well as a handful or more of sonatas for piano four hands or two pianos. This Listener Guide offers six Mozart sonatas from the “front nine” of the series, nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 9 composed between 1774 and 1777. (Once Upon the Internet # 37 – 19 May 2015)

(More Mozart Sonatas in Listener Guides #4 and 12)

Listener Guide #155 - “Viviana Sofronitsky & Mozart”

This Listener Guide is a convergence of sorts – Mozart and “old keyboards”, the latter having been the subject of a listener guide in Part Ione of this project. I have retained here four of Mozart’s keyboard concertos; the first (no. 2) is performed on the harpsichord and the remaining three (nos. 5, 6 and 11) are performed on the fortepiano. (ITYWLTMT Montage #262 – 21 October 2017)

Listener Guide #156 – “Mozart 2-3-4”

This Listener Guide is a further sampling of Mozart’s many concertos for solo instrument and orchestra, featuring three instruments – the horn, the violin and the piano. As I often due, allow me a little numerical fun as the works follow the numerical sequence 2, 3 and 4.

Listener Guide #157 – “Mozart Concertos on MP3.COM”

Mozart’s four Horn Concertos (along with Haydn’s and the pair by Richard Strauss) are a major part of most professional horn players' repertoire. The concertos were written for his friend Joseph Leutgeb, whom he had known since childhood. Most of us are familiar with the K. 495 finale, a "quite obvious example of the “hunt” topic. Two of the four concertos are featured in this Listener Guide, along with the Piano Concerto No. 8, also known as the “Lützow”,  a contemporary work to the Haffner Serenade (more on that shortly…) (Once Upon the Internet # 4 – 18 Sept 2012)

(More Mozart Conerrtos in Listener Guides #91, 116 and 118)

Listener Guide #158 – “It’s Haffner Time”

In the old town of Salzburg, along the left bank of the Salzach between the Franciscan Church and City Hall you wi;l find the Sigmund Haffner Gasse. It was named after Sigmund Haffner the Elder, mayor of Salzburg from 1768 to 1772. This Listener Guide is dedicated to a pair of works that were commissioned from Mozart by that prominent Salzburg family.

Listener Guide # 159 – “Mozart's European vacation”

This Listener Guide features three Mozart symphonies that are named after European cities: Paris, Linz and Prague (ITYWLTMT Encore – 17 July 2015)

Listener Guide #160 – “Michael Haydn & Mozart“

This Listener Guide proposes as its key work one of Mozart’s numbered symphonies that should be rightly assigned to Joseph Haydn’s brother; the so-called Symphony No. 37 adds an introduction by Mozart to a symphony in G by Michael Haydn. (ITYWLTMT Montage #270 – 30 Jan 2018)

Listener Guide #161 - “Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963)”

The majority of this Listener Guide 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 Frerenc Fricsay’s commercial recording of the work made the next day. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 145 – 28 Feb 2014)

(Another Mozart Mass in Listener Guide # 47)

Listener Guides # 162 & 163 - “Die Zauberflote”

First performed in 1791 in a suburban Viennese theatre, The Magic Flute was dubbed a Singspiel - literally meaning Sing-speak – which combines spoken dialogue with arias and ensembles, and relies on spectacular visual effects to keep the crowd happy. Interestingly in his letters Mozart referred to it as an opera – he evidently had a more serious outlook on the piece. He wrote the music to the words of his friend Emanuel Schikaneder, an actor, impresario and fellow enthusiast for the freemasons – a group whose rational ideals had a powerful influence on the opera. (Once or Twice a Fortnight – 15 Dec 2015)

L/G 162 (Act I); L/G 163 (Act II)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vladimir Horowitz. Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No. 1 / Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s installment of Once Upon the Internet brings us back to the Italian Public Domain siteLiberMusica, for a pair of concerti featuring Vladimir Horowitz, his Father-in-Law Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra.

The source pages from the Italian site don’t clearly identify the performances – a search on the Web using the title of the source album strongly suggests that the tracks come from a Classica D'oro recording which, according to AllMusic.com, was a March 2001 remastered reissue of 1940’s recordings of these concerti. There is a plethora of digitally restored albums reissuing these well-travelled recordings, notably a Naxos Historical recording which has the benefit of copious background and technical notes.

According to these excellent notes (excerpts liberally rearranged):

Vladimir Horowitz held a singular place in twentieth-century music. He was both an international celebrity and serious artist whose performances and recordings were anxiously anticipated and widely discussed. His recordings of Brahms's Second Concerto (1940) and Tchaikovsky's First Concerto (1941) are among the most influential piano recordings ever produced and they helped to propel his career into the 1940s and beyond.

Perhaps through a combination of dutiful compliance to his wife and Toscanini’s renowned indomitable will, Horowitz always remained far more in awe of his father-in-law, at least when in his company, both socially and musically. Referring to the Brahms concerto recording, he famously remarked at a later time, "Toscanini had his own conception, and I followed it, even if it was sometimes against my own wishes."

Horowitz's May 6, 1940 performance of the [Brahms] B-Flat Concerto in New York was a sensation. The event was an all-Brahms charity concert at Carnegie Hall with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. New York Times' critic Olin Downes wrote that "Mr. Horowitz played what is probably the greatest of piano concertos with all the sincerity, the virility and fire of his young heart, and the abundant virtuosity and power which are phenomenally at his command, and...one ventures to say that this was playing of a breadth, a masculinity, a poetry and withal a heroic spirit which would have satisfied the composer." Downes reported the audience to have applauded each movement and cheered at the end. On May 9 he recorded the concerto at the RCA Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey. [Blogger's Note: some other sources claim the recording venue was Carnegie Hall]

The Brahms recording hit the shops and was an enormous commercial and critical success. RCA Victor executives were thus anxious to follow up the Brahms with Horowitz's showpiece, Tchaikovsky's First Concerto. In 1941 Americans had long been familiar with Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, and with Horowitz's interpretation of it. Horowitz had made the concerto a central part of his repertoire early in his career.

On 19 April 1941 Horowitz played the concerto with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra at an all-Tchaikovsky concert at Carnegie Hall, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the famous auditorium. Noel Straus, writing in the New York Times, called Horowitz's playing "brilliant, poetic and vital...a truly stupendous exhibition of pianism, as emotionally expansive as it was amazing in its tonal hues and subtlety of nuance." Once again, the studio recording took place a few days later and, as with the Brahms, the Horowitz-Toscanini version quickly became the one to own.
For many music lovers the 1941 recording of the Tchaikovsky, long available on 78-rpm discs and later on vinyl LPs, is one of the very Romantic interpretations of the concerto and it is an absolute treasure.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, op. 83

Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, op. 23 [TH 55]

Vladimir Horowitz, piano
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini. Conducting
Recorded 9th May, 1940 (Brahms), and 14th May, 1941 (Tchaikovsky) in Carnegie Hall, New York City

Source album: Classica d'Oro 3001

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/051.AllegroNonTroppoEMoltoMae

Friday, February 9, 2018

Mozart 2-3-4

No. 271 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast271

This week’s podcast is intended to be part of our Time Capsule project, and is a sampling of Mozart’s many concertos for solo instrument and orchestra, featuring three instruments – the horn, the violin and the piano. As I often due, allow me a little numerical fun as the works follow the numerical sequence 2, 3 and 4.

Last year, as part of our Friday series and our Vinyl’s Revenge series we spent some time exploring Mozart’s piano concertos, so I don’t plan to say much about this week’s selection in that department – the Piano Concerto no. 4 - other than to say that it is part of Geza Anda’s landmark complete set as soloist and conductor with the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, featured in a few of our past podcasts devoted to the Mozart corpus.

Mozart composed several concerti for wind instruments – flute, bassoon, oboe (repurposed for the flute), clarinet and horn, and many of these have been part of past podcasts and Tuesday shares. This week’s selection, the horn concerto no. 2 has a very catchy rondo finale – a formula Mozart will reuse in his fourth horn concerto.

According to the Köchel catalog of Mozart’s works, he may have composed as many as seven violin concerti – the final two (K 268 and 271a) fall in the “doubtful” category – see our recent post on Mozart’s 37th symphony for a larger discussion on these spurious entries in the catalog. Mozart’s five “numbered” concertos were all composed in 1775 and today’s podcast features the concerto no. 3 which Mozart in his own correspondence calls the “Straßburg” concerto as the rondo finale borrows from a local Strasburgian folk tune, a sort of pot-pourri in the French style. The podcast performance is from the EMI complete cycle of the violin concertos by David Oistrakh as both soloist and conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic.

To complete the podcast, I added a performance of the Violin Concerto (no. 7) in D major, K. 271a. It has also been called the Kolb Concerto due to a reference by Mozart’s father, Leopold, as "the concerto you [Wolfgang] wrote for Kolb". Kolb was originally thought to be Franz Xavier Kolb (1731–82), but it also could have been his older son Johann Andreas (born sometime around 1746-8).
The work may have been completed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on 16 July 1777 in Salzburg; the true provenance of the concerto remains unknown and debated.

I think you will love this music too.