Sunday, June 30, 2019

Project 366 - Five "odd" Collections

Project 366 continues in 2019 with "The Classical Collectionss - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

To bring Part 3 of Project 366 to a close, I assembled our last five collections which, in their own way, are “odd”. By odd I don’t mean anything sinister but rather that some may not look at them as being “complete.

The Mozart Violin Concertos

The collection I assembled here includes the “basic five numbered” violin concertos we can safely attribute to Mozart.  To that lust, I added two other “numbered” concertos which have been attributed to Wolfgang but whose authorship is debatable. Missing from the list are the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola (sometimes “bundled” with these concertos, and other youth or fragmentary works.

Violin Concerto No.1 in Bb, K.207 [Guide # 245]
Violin Concerto No.2 in D, K.211 [Guide # 246]
Violin Concerto No.3 in G, K.216 [Guide # 156]
Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K.218 [Guide # 246]
Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K.219 ('Turkish') [Guide # 288]
Violin Concerto No.6 in E flat, K 268 [Guide # 288]
Violin Concerto No.7 in D, K.271a [Guide # 156]

Listener Guide #288 - Josef Suk (1929 – 2011)
What distinguishes Mozart’s violin concerti from the hundreds of the Baroque masters and the seminal Romantic ones is the need for very precise, economical yet steady lines that are required from the soloist. This is oil painting, not house painting, if you get my drift… The Suk set is the most satisfying group in that regard, and the orchestra is solid and well-matched. The recordings didn’t get much distribution in the West – par for the course during those years – but were issued on boutique European labels, which is probably where most of us got to enjoy them. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 312 – 17 May 2019)

Max Bruch’s Concertos and Concertante works

When we think of Max Bruch’s contributions to the concertante genre, we think mainly of his three violin concertos and Scottish Fantasy. I added to the list a couple more works we featured in past montages, which makes this list “odd” insofar as it is incomplete.

Violin Concerto No.1 in G-, Op.26 [Guide # 38 & 207]
Violin Concerto No.2 in D-, Op.44 [Guide # 289]
Scottish Fantasy, for violin and orchestra, Op.46 [Guide # 290]
Violin Concerto No.3 in D-, Op.58 [Guide # 291]
Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 88 [Guide # 207]

Listener Guide # 289 – Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Like Lalo, Wieniawski and Saint-Saëns, Max Bruch composed two works for Sarasate; Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor was composed around 1878, dedicated to and premiered in London by Sarasate with Bruch conducting, in November 1878. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 194 – 17 April 2015)

Listener Guide # 290 - Bruch, Wieniawski, Michael Rabin, Sir Adrian Boult ‎– Scottish Fantasy / Concerto #1
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. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 40 – 17 July 2018)

Listener Guide # 291 – James Ehnes
Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 3 in D minor was composed in 1891 and dedicated to his friend and colleague at the Berlin Academy of Music, the eminent violinist Joseph Joachim, who had persuaded Bruch to expand what had started out as a single movement concert piece into a full violin concerto. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 195 – 24 April 2015)

Richard Strauss’ Tone Poems

This collection, I believe, is a complete set of Strauss’ tone poems, which include two “symphonies”. If that doesn’t make this an odd collection, I added Don Quixote to the list, which we would argue is more a concertante work than a tone poem.

Don Juan, Op.20, TrV156 [Guide # 29]
Macbeth, Op.23, TrV163 [Guide # 292]
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24, TrV158 [Guide # 293]
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30, TrV176 [Guide # 292]
Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations for Cello and Orchestra, Op.35, TrV184 [Guide # 294]
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40, TrV190 [Guide # 202]
Sinfonia domestica, Op.53, TrV209 [Guide # 295]
Eine Alpensinfonie, Op.64, TrV233 [Guide # 296]
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op.28, Trv171 [Guide # 29]

Listener Guide # 292 – More Richard Strauss
Also sprach Zarathustra, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel of the same name. The initial fanfare – titled "Sunrise" in the composer's program notes – became well-known after its use in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Elvis Presley used the opening fanfare as the opening piece in his concerts between 1971 and his death in 1977, and as the introduction to several of his live albums. Macbeth was his first tone poem, "a completely new path" for him compositionally. Originally composed between 1886 and 1888, the piece was revised more thoroughly than any of Strauss's other works; these revisions show how much the composer was struggling at this point in his career to balance narrative content with musical form. (ITYWLTMT Montage #269 – 31 August 2018)

Listener Guide # 293 – You’re Killing Me
Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration is one of his great tone poems, where the music depicts the death of an artist. As the man lies dying, thoughts of his life pass through his head: his childhood innocence, the struggles of his manhood, the attainment of his worldly goals; and at the end, he receives the longed-for transfiguration "from the infinite reaches of heaven". (ITYWLTMT Montage #129 – 1 November 2013)

Listener Guide # 294 – Richard Strauss – Don Quixote Viktor Simon / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Although he was best known internationally for his work within the Russian repertoire, and most especially with the living Russian composers of his prime, conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky also brought foreign works to his home audience, including the first performance in Russia of Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream and the first complete cycle of Ralph Vaughan Williams' symphonies. With the Soviet orchestra, he recorded the complete symphonies of Shostakovich, Alexander Glazunov and Alfred Schnittke — and also Anton Bruckner and Arthur Honegger — for Melodiya, the Soviet state-owned record label for which he was one of the earliest and most prolific recording artists. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 47  – 12 March 2019)

Listener Guide # 295 – Richard Strauss: Violin Concerto in D minor; Sinfonia Domestica
When Strauss began composing the Sinfonia Domestica, he intended it to be the sequel to Ein Heldenleben, the next installment of the autobiography of the now-successful artist. Where Heldenleben is more popular and, dare I say, pompous and not at all self-effacing, this “symphony” is more subtle. (Cover 2 Cover # 16  – 26 February 2019)

Listener Guide # 296 – Richard Strauss - Berliner Philharmoniker · Herbert von Karajan ‎– Eine Alpensinfonie
Strauss’ penchant for "music as life" type pieces wholly justifies this Alpine Symphony; this expansive work has a very detailed program depicting the experiences of eleven hours (from daybreak just before dawn to the following nightfall) spent climbing a mountain. The score calls for around 115 players, including the operator for both the wind and thunder machines. Amongst the other features are an expanded wind choir, a huge brass group, including 12 off stage Horns , 2 harps and a string compliment of 64, the so-called "Wagner 64”. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 46  – 12 February 2019)

The Stravinsky Ballets

This collection is odd in more ways than one. First, some ballets are missing altogether and, second, not all ballets are complete as some are only represented as “suites”.

L'oiseau de feu (1910 version) [Guide # 297]
(*) L'oiseau de feu (1945 version) [Guide # 239]
Le sacre du printemps (1913 version) [Guide # 58]
Petrushka (1947 version) [Guide # 240]
(*) Pulcinella (ballet with song; after Pergolesi, Gallo, others, 1920) [Guide # 239]
Apollo (1928) [Guide # 298]
(*) Le baiser de la fée (“Divertimento”, 1934 rev. 1949) [Guide # 239]
Agon (1953-54) [Guide # 298]
(*) Ballet suite

Listener Guide # 297 – Happy Birthday Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky found recordings a practical and useful tool in preserving his thoughts on the interpretation of his music. As a conductor of his own music, he recorded primarily for Columbia Records, beginning in 1928 with a performance of the original suite from The Firebird and concluding in 1967 with the 1945 suite from the same ballet. Stravinsky told The Firebird was the first piece he ever conducted publicly – at a Red Cross fundraiser in Switzerland (where he emigrated after WW I) and that he felt quite intimidated by the experience. (ITYWLTMT Montage #75 – 12 October 2012)

Listener Guide # 298 – Stravinsky & Balanchine
Although Stravinsky wrote only four scores for ballets by George Balanchine, the two artists had a long and mutually fruitful working relationship. Even as a young ballet student at the Imperial Theater School in Petersburg, Georgi Balanchivadze was immediately drawn to Stravinsky's vibrant music. By the time of his death in 1983, he had choreographed many of the composer's most important works. The powerful pulse of Stravinsky's music flowed relentlessly forward, begging to be placed into physical motion, to be visualized, to be danced. (ITYWLTMT Montage #310 – 30 April 2019)

George Gershwin’s Works for Piano and Orchestra

The last two Listener Guides complete the set of works for Piano and Orchestra bby George Gershwin. Missing from the list is a setting of Rialto Ripples for piano and orchestra, making that an incomplete – thus “odd” – collection.

Rhapsody in Blue, for piano and jazz orchestra (1924) [Guide # 299]
Piano Concerto in F (1925) [Guide # 118]
Second Rhapsody ('Rhapsody in Rivets') (1931) [Guide # 300]
Variations on 'I Got Rhythm' (1934) [Guide # 80]

Listener Guide # 299 – In Memoriam: George Gershwin
George Gershwin left us on July 11, 1937, two months shy of his 40th birthday. One can only speculate as to what great things Gershwin could have done had he lived 40 more years. He’d only spent a few years working in Hollywood, and had already one major opera under his belt. There probably would have been more films, possibly more music for the concert hall or the opera house…. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 79 - 9 Nov 2012)

Listener Guide # 300 – A Second or Two
Gershwin's Second Rhapsody stems from the time he turned his activities towards Hollywood and film. Originally designed as a "rhapsody in rivets", it is reminiscent of the skyscrapers of his native New-York. The work follows in many ways the same format as the Rhapsody in Blue, though without the same emphasis on jazz and blues. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 90  - 1 Feb 2013)

Friday, June 28, 2019

Québec sait chanter

No. 315 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s Blog and Podcast – also my OTF contribution for the last fortnight of June – comes as many of my Quebec countrymen recover from their yearly celebrations of their National Holiday (June 24th). The title of today’s post, Québec sait chanter (loosely translated as Quebec can sing), makes reference to an old television show from my youth, where host Yoland Guérard would welcome great operatic voices, share anecdotes and would feature their voices in studio.

Guérard would often join forces with these singers because he was a fine bass himself! After briefly studying the bassoon at the Montreal Conservatory, he placed second at a radio song competition, and from there took vocal training. In 1950, he won a scholarshiop and studied in Paris, soon making his stage debut in Lyon (as Méphisto in Faust) and singing numerous roles in light and grand opera in Europe and North America. Most noteworthy, he took over Enzo Pinza’s role in South Pacific when the show toured from 1954 to 1956.

There are a few YouTube clips featuring him, mostly late in his career; more as a variety singer and crooner-type rather than as a suave bass.

In French Canada’s “Golden Age of Television”, from say 1962 to 1975, he was mainly a television host and producer, which takes us back to our podcast, featuring singers that visited him on his show, as well as some of the emerging voices of today.

Names like Raoul Jobin (featured recently in our Roméo et Juliette OTF post), Robert Savoie, André Turp, Huguette Tourangeau and the husband and wife duo of Pierrette Alarie and Léopold Simoneau – most of whom featured today – had their turn on television with Mr. Guérard.
Young voices like Marianne Fiset, Manon Feubel, Karina Gauvin and Marie-Nicole Lemieux were either not yet born or in diapers when the show was on the air, but they all have certainly earned their place on the greatest concert and operatic stages.

This may be a footnote in history, but American bass George London was born in Montreal and only moved to the US permanently in his teens – so he deserves a spot on this all-Quebec roster. Because we featured her so many times before, I didn’t add Maureen Forrester to this montage.

The final selection – Act Five from the original French version of Verdi’s opera Don Carlos – has the distinction of having many of the principal roles sung by French Canadian singers – the aforementioned Savoie (not heard here because his character dies in the previous act), Turp, Rouleau and soprano Edith Tremblay (best remembered by some of us as the anthem singer at the old Colisée in Quebec City) are part of this BBC radio broadcast performance.

(I plan to offer the entire opera sometime this summer, so more on that one later).

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Szell / Wagner, The Cleveland Orchestra ‎– Great Orchestra Highlights From The Ring

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

This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge is a recording re-issued dozens of times between 1957 and when I acquired it under the CBS “Great Performances” series in 1981.

Before George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, George Lucas’ Star Wars, and Tolkien’s Middle Earth chronicles, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen represented the pinnacle in literary or performance arts at creating an entire mythology. This tetralogy of operas is based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The composer termed the cycle a "Bühnenfestspiel" (stage festival play), structured in three days preceded by a Vorabend ("preliminary evening").

As these are mammoth works, and that their performance represents a substantial investment in time (easily 12 hours), these operas are both a gift and a curse – in fact, lay people are immediately turned off opera altogether at the thought of Wagner operas based on their reputation for complexity and length!

They do, however showcase so many of Wagner’s preferred “tricks” – leitmotiv, tone poem passages, that they are well deserving of an à la carte serving of its greatest passages – which is exactly what maestro Szell does on this record.

Szell came to Cleveland in 1946 to take over a respected if undersized orchestra, which was struggling to recover from the disruptions of World War II. By the time of his death he was credited with having built it into "what many critics regarded as the world's keenest symphonic instrument."

Through his recordings, Szell has remained a presence in the classical music world long after his death, and his name remains synonymous with that of the Cleveland Orchestra. While on tour with the Orchestra in the late 1980s, then-Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi remarked, "We give a great concert, and George Szell gets a great review."

Interestingly, during his tenure in New York, Zubin Mehta revisited essentially the same program for one of his digital recordings with the Philharmonic . The exception there was his use of singers (Peter Wimberger for the Fire music scene and Montserrat Caballé in the immolation scene.)

Happy Listening!

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen, WWV 86 – orchestral Selections

  • Entrance Of The Gods Into Valhalla from Das Rheingold, WWV 86a
  • The Ride Of The Valkyries from Die Walkure, WWV 86b
  • Magic Fire Music from Die Walkure, WWV 86b
  • Forest Murmurs from Siegfried, WWV 86c
  • Dawn And Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung, WWV 86d
  • Siegfried's Fungeral Music and Immolation Scene from Gotterdammerung, WWV 86d

Cleveland Orchestra
George Szell, conducting

CBS ‎– MY 36715
Series: CBS Great Performances
Format: Vinyl, LP, Reissue
Released: 1982(original release, 1957)

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Lélio ou le retour à la vie (Berlioz)

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

Our second post in our series marking the Berlioz year considers a little programmed work (although it has been the subject of several concerts in this special year).

The Berlioz discography, as I discussed briefly in the previous post, counts his Symphonie Fantastique as one of the composer's essential works. As some have pointed out, this "program-based" symphony defies the traditional stranglehold of the "classical" symphony, using musical imagery and making particularly noteworthy use of the leitmotiv as a device, or the idée fixe (which loosely translates to “obsession”)

The Berlioz catalog identifies this symphony as opus 14 (work number 48 in the Holoman catalog). Opus 14b (or Holoman 55b) is reserved for the operatic monodrama Lélio or the return to life. This numerical assignment further feeds the established folklore that Lélio is the "sequel" to the said Fantastique. Berlioz writes that the work "must be heard immediately after Symphonie Fantastique, of which it is the end and the complement. ". The name "Lélio" is taken from the hero of George Sand's novel, The Last Aldini, published in 1832 - all this time, I thought it was a sort of nickname derived from "Berlioz". You learn something new every day!

Composed in Italy in 1831, Lélio was premiered at the Paris Conservatoire on December 9, 1832. It was revised for a performance in Weimar at the request of Franz Liszt in 1855 and published the following year.
Lélio is presented by an actor standing on stage in front of a curtain hiding the orchestra. The actor's dramatic monologues explain the meaning of music in the artist's life.

The work begins and ends with the theme of the idée fixe, linking Lélio to the Symphonie fantastique and, like the symphony, Lélio is inspired by Berlioz's tragic loves - with Harriet Smithson for the symphony, with Camille Moke for Lélio , women who broke their engagement with the composer, then making him think of suicide. Subsequently, Berlioz gave a different interpretation, saying that the symphony and Lélio speak of Harriet Smithson (who later became his wife).
While the Fantastique describes the desperate artist trying to kill himself by overdose of opium, this creates a series of more and more terrifying visions. Lélio talks about the artist waking up from his dreams, meditating on Shakespeare, his sad life and not having a wife; he then decides that if he can not forget this unrequited love, he will immerse himself in the music; he then successfully directs an orchestra on one of his new compositions and the story "ends well".

This work is in six parts:

  1. Le pêcheur. Ballad, based on Goethe’sDer Fischer.
  2. Chœur d'ombres – Evokes Shakespeare’s Hamlet and its use of ghostly spirits. Berlioz reuses music from his cantata Cléopâtre (H. 36)
  3. Chanson de brigands - A celebration of freedom, gangster of sorts.
  4. Chant de bonheur – Remembrances, reusing music from La mort d’Orphée (H. 25).
  5. La harpe éolienne, a purely orchestral passage, and a reference to the wind harp – a common image from the Romantic period
  6. Fantaisie sur la "Tempête" de Shakespeare - Sung in Italian, and reuses some more of Berlioz’s music (H. 52 and 36)

Unlike the Symphonie fantastique, Lélio's discography is much less extensive. The selected version, which dates back a dozen years, is narrated in French by the lyric baritone Jean-Philippe Lafont, accompanied by the Danish Radio Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard. Other soloists and choirs are Danish.

Happy listening!

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Lélio ou le retour à la vie, op. 14b [H. 55b]
monodrame lyrique en six parties (1831, rev. 1855)

Gert Henning-Jensen, tenor (Horatio)
Sune Hjerrild, tenor (La Voix imaginaire de Lélio)
Jean-Philippe LaFont, baritone (Le Capitaine) and narrator

DR KoncertKoret
Fredrick Malmberg, chorus master
DR SymfoniOrkestret
Thomas Dausgaard, conducting

Recorded in July and August 2004
Chandos 10416

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Mozart: 2 Pianos

No. 314 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s Blog and Podcast continues our look at Mozart (three podcasts in a row!_) rtguis time with a focus on works for two pianos (or piano four hands) either composed by Mozart, or inspired by Mozart – as is the case in the Theme and Variations After Mozart by Max Reger.

Reger’s piece revisits the theme from the opening movement of the K. 331 sonata (most memorable for the Turkish Rondo finale) and continues where Mozart left off (with a modest set of variations of his own) by suggesting  set of more complex and intricate variations for four hands. Mozart’s K. 501 - also performed by the duo of Dale Bartlett and Jean Marchand – provide a good comparison as to how Mozart deftly uses the mix of voices available with two pianists.

Mozart left us a few works for two pianos (or four hands on a single keyboard) and many of them were intended for Mozart to perform with his sister Nannerl, herself considered his virtuosic equal in their youth. It is believed that the sonata in D Major, K. 381, was performed in Salzburg on September 3rd 1780, in a concert where the pair also performed a concerto for two keyboards – that could be either his concerto for three pianos in a well-known two-piano adaptation or his concerto for two pianos. The record is unclear.

The first piece in the montage is labelled K. 357 in the Köchel catalog, but is sometimes referred to a pair of Köchel numbers (497a and 500a). The movements are thought of as an uunfinished sonata in G Major .

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Zubin Mehta Conducts Brahms

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

It is hard to believe that Zubin Mehta turned 83 years old this past April. I have vague recall of Mehta as Music Director of my hometown Montreal Symphony (from 1961 to 1967), at a time of great civil and cultural transformation in my home province of Quebec – a relationship that he maintained for almost 20 years after he left, in part due to the fact his brother, Zarin, was the orchestra’s long time managing director.

Mehta received praise early in his career for dynamic interpretations of the large-scale symphonic music of Anton BrucknerRichard StraussGustav Mahler and Franz Schmidt. His conducting is renowned as being flamboyant, vigorous and forceful. In an interview, Wilfrid Pelletier once said that Mehta was the best emerging conductor of the “next generation”. No small praise from a man who rubbed elbows with Toscanini, Walter and a young Bernstein!

Mehta famously held several music directorships during his long career – in Los Angeles (1962-1978 and its Conductor Emeritus) and in Israel (since 1977 and “Music Director for Life” since 1981) are among his most well-known tenures. Though significant and equally memorable, it appears we overlook his stay with the New York Philharmonic (from 1978 to 1991) where he is to this day its longest-serving Music Director, yet he has not maintained there any enduring relationship, leaving the orchestra for Florence and Munich appointments.

Like many of his predecessors (Bernstein being most noteworthy in that regard), Mehta had several recording projects with the Philharmonic, mostly for CBS Masterworks but on occasion appearing on other labels with the orchestra. Mehta’s tenure straddled the analog and digital periods, and I’d surmise that most of his recordings with the NYP were originally analog (many of them digitally revisited) and some were digital (most noteworthy being his “Live at Lincoln Center” recording of Isaac Stern’s 65th Anniversary concert). None of these projects, that included a Beethoven symphony cycle, left their mark, though I think this has a lot to do with the fact the repertoire espoused by Mehta is well frequented and it’s hard for specific projects to stand out, especially when so many contemporaneous projects had the novelty of digital working in their favour.

One of these projects, however, was later digitally reissued, and it’s a near-complete Brahms survey of the symphonies and concerti from the early days of Mehta’s New York tenure. Mehta later revisited many of the same works for Sony with his Israel Philharmonic in digital format. There can be no doubt that Mehta is in his element here!

The two recordings I retained for this Cover 2 Cover post are part of that project. Mehta’s recording of Brahms’ Fourth symphony is excellent – capturing the right balance of drama and jubilation. The “Double Concerto” features long-time collaborators Lynn Harrell and Pinchas Zukerman (Stern was the soloist for the violin concerto and Daniel Barenboim was featured in the two piano concerti – already shared in these pages a few years back). Filling the concerto recording is a fine reading of the Academic Festival overture.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
New York Philharmonic
Zubin Mehta, conducting

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Concerto In A Minor For Violin And Cello, Op. 102
(Violin – Pinchas Zukerman, Cello – Lynn Harrell)

CBS Masterworks ‎– M 35894 (1981)

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Symphony No. 4 In E Minor, Op. 98

CBS Masterworks ‎– M 35837 (1980)

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