Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ansermet & Stravinsky

This week's Tuesday Blog features no. 286 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast286


This is the fifth Tuesday of July and as is the custom here on the Tuesday Blog, I will be sharing my latest home-made montage (number 286 in my continuing series). Also, this week I am launching a mini thematic arc that I will call The Beaten Path, where my shares revisit composers and themes I've already looked at in the preceding year.

We've done quite a bit of Stravinsky this year - for those of you who follow Project 366 on my ITYWLTMT blog, you can already imagine I am preparing a Stravinsky chapter in that series. Today, a pair of works featuring Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet.

Ernest Ansermet introduced Stravinsky's three early "big" ballets to the U.S. on the 1916 tour by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. With his passion for precision, he became, over time, one of the composer's most trusted interpreters, giving the premières of the Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1929, with Stravinsky at the keyboard). This artistic relationship would founder on the composer's late-career embrace of atonality, a system which Ansermet, trained as a mathematician, would reject on scientific as well as aesthetic grounds.

The Allegro capriccioso movement that would become the finale was begun first, in Nice on Christmas Day 1928, and provided the musical material from which the other movements grew. It was followed by the second movement, completed at Echarvines on 13 September 1929, and then by the opening Presto. The premiere took place in the Salle Pleyel, Paris, on 6 December 1929, with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris conducted by Ernest Ansermet (Stravinsky designed the Capriccio to be a virtuosic vehicle which would allow him to earn a living from playing the piano part). The next year, Stravinsky made a commercial recording of the work as soloist, with the Straram Orchestra, conducted by Ernest Ansermet This is the version featured today.

Oedipus rex was written towards the beginning of Stravinsky's neoclassical period, and is considered one of the finest works from this phase of the composer's career. He had considered setting the work in Ancient Greek, but decided ultimately on Latin: in his words "a medium not dead but turned to stone."

The libretto, based on Sophocles's tragedy, was written by Jean Cocteau in French and then translated by Abbé Jean Daniélou into Latin; the narration, however, is performed in the language of the audience. Today, the narration is in French, as the performance by Ansermet is from a broadcast recording made by French National Radio.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Projeect 366 - Midsummer Romantic Mashup

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.

This mid-summer edition of Project 366 continues our look at Romantic composer time capsules, this time considering traditions other than French or German, though we will dwell a bit into Russian tradition, avoiding however Tchaikovsky who will get his own chapter in the Fall.

Giuseppe Verdi (c. 1813–1901)

Giuseppe Verdi was born in Italy in 1813, prior to Italian unification. Verdi produced many successful operas, composing over 25 operas throughout his career, and became known for his skill in creating melody and his profound use of theatrical effect. Additionally, his rejection of the traditional Italian opera for integrated scenes and unified acts earned him fame.

Listener Guide #209-210 - Toscanini's 1946 Broadcast of La Traviata

La Traviata, as conceived by Toscanini, is poignant and incisive – he truly lives the music and the story. It begins with the muted anticipation of the Prelude to Act One, through all the showstopper arias, and all the way to Violetta’s last breath. There may be better casts, there may be technologically superior recordings, but the overall result is nothing less than sublime! (Once or Twice a Fortnight – Feb. 6 2012) [Synopsis and Libretto]

(L/G 209 – Act 1, Act 2 Scene 1 - L/G 210 – Act2 Scene 2, Act 3)

(More Verdi at Listener Guides #45 and 97)

Ask anyone about Nordic classical music and a few names spring to mind: Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius. Their fame is undeniably deserved: both in their own way carved out their own distinct compositional style and helped put their respective homelands on the map, musically speaking. Other, slightly less well-known names may also enter the conversation: most likely the Dane Carl Nielsen or the Swede Wilhelm Stenhammar. Yet all these composers are united in how parts of their bodies of work have been somewhat neglected due to the popularity of a couple of their more famous pieces.

Listener Guide #211 - Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Composer Carl Nielsen is quoted as saying “Music is the Sound of Life”. This week’s podcast includes his clarinet concerto and his Sinfonia Espansiva. Nielsen wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia Espansiva" between 1910 and 1911 following Nielsen's tenure as bandmaster at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Nielsen himself conducted the premiere of the work on February 28, 1912 with Copenhagen's Royal Danish Orchestra. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 276 – 06 Apr, 2018)

Listener Guide #212 - Sibelius, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Paavo Berglund ‎– Symphony No. 4 & 7

When Sibelius was in his mid-40s, he thought he was going to die. His doctors had found a growth in his throat and after several operations his prognosis was still not good. He was a hard-living, hard-drinking cigar smoker. For a time, he gave it all up and wrote his dark, inward-looking, modern-sounding Symphony No. 4, a work that baffled not only many listeners but conductors as well. (Vinyl’s Revenge #36 – March 27, 2018)

(More Scandinavian Music at Listener Guides # 22, 37, 54, 62 and 76)

There once were two brothers – Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein. Both were pianists, composers and educators; Anton not only founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first music school in Russia, he was its first director but also recruited an imposing pool of talent for its faculty. Among its first pupils, a young and eager Peter Tchaikovsky. Once Tchaikovsky graduated in 1865, Rubinstein's brother Nikolai offered him the post of Professor of Music Theory at the soon-to-open Moscow Conservatory – the second institution of its kind in Imperial Russia, and the second founded and directed by the Rubinstein brothers.

Listener Guide #213- The St. Petersburg School
However, it would be inaccurate to purely equate the Russian Nationalist “St Petersburg School” with Conservatory and its close predecessor, the Russian Musical Society. Equally important is a group known in Russian as Moguchaya kuchka, which loosely translates to "Mighty Bunch" – we also know  the group under other names: the Mighty Five, The Mighty Handful or simply the Five - five prominent 19th-century Russian composers who worked together to create distinct Russian classical music. Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin all lived in Saint Petersburg and collaborated from 1856 to 1870. (ITYWLTMT Montage #279 – 18 May 2018)

Listener Guide #214- Sheherazade
The famous suite by Rimsky-Korsakov portrays Sheherazade as a story-teller. The leitmotiv that represents Scheherazade (heard played by solo violin) morphs as stories of Sinbad the Sailor and the Story of the First Kalendar get rendered by the orchestra. The culminating movement depict a feast day in Baghdad and Sinbad's ship (6th voyage) is depicted as rushing rapidly toward cliffs and only the fortuitous discovery of the cavernous stream allows him to escape and make the passage to Serindib. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 124 - September 27, 2013)

Listener Guide #215- Rachmaninov – Symphony #1 and Piano Concerto #2
Though far from the composer's best work—he was but 23, and in the earliest stages of his career, at the time of its composition—the First Symphony is far from the unqualified failure suggested by its initial reception. It is, instead, a large, ambitious work that attempts to expand the bounds of the Russian symphony beyond the works of Tchaikovsky by incorporating music of the Russian Orthodox church. Because of the failure of the Symphony, Rachmaninov began to drink immoderately. By the end of 1899, he was an alcoholic whose hands shook, imperiling his keyboard career. (ITYWLTMT Montage #115 - July 25, 2013)

Listener Guide #216- John Field (1782-1837)
John Field was born in Dublin into a musical family, and received his early education there, in particular with the immigrant Tommaso Giordani. The Fields soon moved to London, where Field studied under Muzio Clementi. Under his tutelage, Field quickly became a famous and sought-after concert pianist. Together, master and pupil visited Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. Field was very highly regarded by his contemporaries and his playing and compositions influenced many major composers, including Chopin, Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. (ITYWLTMT # 264 - November 10, 2017)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Christophe Rousset Plays J.S. Bach

No. 285  of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast285

I recall having discussed many times Johann Sebastian Bach’s penchant for reusing his compositions, and setting them for different instrument combinations. Let’s recall, for instance, the curious case of the keyboard concerto BWV 1052 (which was featured in a podcast from last December) and again presented as part of a Back to Bach montage from October 2013 in its violin setting. As is the case for most of these concertos, it is left unclear which came first…

This week’s montage of keyboard concertos revisits the remaining four concertos from that October violin montage – including the pair of double concertos – and allowes us to appreciate them in this alternate setting. The only “new” concerto is BWV 1053 which was (originally?) set for oboe and orchestra. Here is a YouTube version of the concerto in that setting:

When it comes to keyboard performance standards of Bach’s catalog, I have most often provided works performed on “modern” instruments – Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Edwin Fischer and Jörg Demus are performers we’ve featured here and on our Tuesday Blog. There is, however, an alternate school of performance – on “period” instruments. The main defenders of that school would include Rosalind Tureck, Ralph Kirkpatrick and today’s featured artist, Christophe Rousset. The five works this week come from his concerto cycle with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bruch, Wieniawski, Michael Rabin, Sir Adrian Boult ‎– Scottish Fantasy / Concerto #1

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

This week’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge proposes a vintage recording of violin concertante works, one by Bruch and the other by Wieniawski – featuring American violinist Michael Rabin accompanied by Sir Adrian Boult and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Michael Rabin was of Romanian-Jewish descent. His mother Jeanne was a Juilliard-trained pianist, and his father George was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic. He began to study the violin at the age of seven. His parents encouraged his musical development. After a lesson with Jascha Heifetz, the master advised him to study with Ivan Galamian, who said he had "no weaknesses, never." He began studies with Galamian in New York and at the Meadowmount School of Music and the Juilliard School.

At his Carnegie Hall debut in 1950 at age 13, Dimitri Mitropoulos called Rabin “the genius violinist of tomorrow, already equipped with all that is necessary to be a great artist.” George Szell described him as “the greatest violin talent that has come to my attention during the past two or three decades.” And Artur Rodzinski added: “Rabin's is not the usual musical prodigy story. No one beat him to make him practice his scales. He was not overprotected and shut off from the world, but managed to enjoy a perfectly normal American boy hood.”

As is too often the case for precocious talents, the commitments that ensued with his prodigal launch as a teenage virtuoso had been too much for him to handle; he turned to drugs to cope with the anxieties. The coroner found barbiturates in Rabin's blood after the violinist was found dead in his apartment. He had slipped on a rug and struck his head on a table – he was only 35 years old.

The two works on this LP harken back to Pablo de Sarasate and Henryk Wieniawski, two preeminent violin virtuosi of the late Romantic period. Sarasate was the dedicatee of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, and Wieniawski composed a pair of concerti for his own use – the first being featured here. Both these works feature Rabin in top form and fully display his fabulous natural technique and melancholic temperament.

Happy listening!

Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46

Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Concerto No. 1 In F Sharp Minor, Op. 14

Michael Rabin, violin
Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult, conducting
(Originally released in 1958)

Label: Seraphim ‎– 60342
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album *MONO)
Released: 1980

Details - https://www.discogs.com/Michael-Rabi...elease/9119674

Internet Archivehttps://archive.org/details/04ScottishFantasyForViolin

Friday, July 13, 2018

Due South

No. 284 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast284


To launch our summer series of podcasts, I thought I’d provide a “musical passport” montage, something we haven’t done much of in the past couple of summers. In past years, we’ve provided travelogue-style podcasts that explore specific countries and regions, often not by native composers.
Today’s theme has to do with “going South”. South can be both a relative and an absoluter term. To illustrate, in one of his solo albums, Québec singer-song writer Michel Rivard talks of the South in this way (my translation) – At the pub, they sing farewell to Johnny, who’s headed South. South of Shefferville isn’t Jamaica, it’s Québec CIty, or Matane, or New Brunswick.

It’s in that vein that we should consider our first track, the concert overture In the South by Edward Elgar. Subtitled “Alassio” for the Italian Riviera town where Elgar and his family stayed in the winter of 1903 to 1904, it paints a picture of Elgar strolling around during the visit, while the buildings, landscape and history of the town provided him with sources of inspiration. In his words, “Then in a flash, it all came to me – the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where I now stood – the contrast of the ruin and the shepherd – and then, all of a sudden, I came back to reality. In that time I had composed the overture – the rest was merely writing it down.”

We turn later in the montage to another British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and his seventh symphony subtitled “Sinfonia antartica”. The symphony revisits the music Vaughan Williams provided for the film Scott of the Antarctic in 1947.

The symphony is in five movements; the composer specified that the third movement lead directly into the fourth. The score includes a brief literary quotation at the start of each movement. They are sometimes declaimed in performance, although the composer did not say that they were intended to form part of a performance of the work. The quotes are:

  • To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite,/ To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,/ To defy power which seems omnipotent,/ ... / Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent:/ This ... is to be/ Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free,/ This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory. (Shelley, Prometheus Unbound)
  • There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein. (Psalm 104, Verse 26)
  • Ye ice falls! Ye that from the mountain's brow/ Adown enormous ravines slope amain —/ Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,/ And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!/ Motionless torrents! Silent cataracts! (Coleridge, Hymn before Sunrise, in the vale of Chamouni)
  • Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. (Donne, The Sun Rising))
  • I do not regret this journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint. (Scott's Last Journal)

The only work on today’s montage emanating from a Southern composer is by Argentina’s King of the Tango. Written between 1965 and 1970, the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, are a set of four tango compositions written by Ástor Piazzolla, which were originally conceived and treated as different compositions rather than one suite. By giving the adjective porteño, referring to those born in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital city, Piazzolla gives an impression of the four seasons in Buenos Aires. Note the order of the seasons doesn’t match the “Northern” order of Vivaldi’s concerti!

The pieces were scored for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. The version I chose is an arrangement for piano trio.

I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Svetlanov, Glinka, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, USSR State Symphony Orchestra

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

This week’s Cover 2 Cover share actually began as a potential Vinyl’s Revenge. In searching for a YouTube clip of an old Melodiya vinyl recording in my collection of Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony, I found a contemporaneous performance of the same work by the same orchestra and conductor, but in a public setting.

The Soviet military intervention that concluded the Prague Spring on 20 August 1968 coincided with a tour of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in the UK. According to a review of today’s feature performance, the following evening, the USSR State SO was guesting at the Proms (and playing Czech music to boot - the Dvořák Cello Concerto, with Rostropovich). Four days later, the orchestra found itself in Edinburgh, to give the concert on this disc.

When I compare the studio disc to the concert recording, there’s definitely more “zing” to the orchestra, and the well-deserved ovation at the end only stands to prove that music transcends anything and everything, even East-West political tensions.

The first part of the program – the well-known Prokofiev Classical symphony and the single surviving movement of Glinka’s Symphony on Two Russian Themes are also rendered with all their subtlety and “Russianness” by what can be perceived in today’s thinking as one of the flagshiop orchestras of the Soviet regime, with one of its most respected conductors in Mr. Svetlavov.

This is a beautiful document, and a great way to start our Summer season!

Happy Listening

Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857) 
Symphony on Two Russian Themes in D minor, G. i193

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) 
Symphony No. 1 in D Major, op. 25, ‘Classical’

Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) 
Symphony No. 3 in D Major, op. 29, ‘Polish’ [TH 26]

USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Evgeny Svetlanov, conducting
Live performances from Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on August 24th, 1968.

BBC Music ‎– BBCL 4145-2 (BBC Legends)
Format: CD, Stereo ADD
Released 2004
Details - https://www.discogs.com/Svetlanov-Gl...elease/4796722

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/06SymphonyNo3InDMajorOp29