Trio Wanderer: Schubert Trio, op. 100 & “Trout” Quintet

Trio Wanderer:
Franz Schubert, Trio, op. 100, D. 929; “Trout” Quintet, op. 114, D. 667
(
Vincent Coq, piano; Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; and Raphael Pidoux, cello.
With Cristophe Gaugué, viola and Stéphane Logerot, double bass in op. 114)
CD Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908748
Streaming of these performances from the original CD releases is available from Tidal.

Trio op. 100 recorded at The Arsenal, Metz, July, 2000; quintet recorded at IRCAM Paris, June 2002. Jean-Martial Golaz, producer and engineer.

Poor Alex North. Stanley Kubrick hired him to compose a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, when it came time to give the movie its première, to his embarrassed chagrin (he actually was sitting in the audience) North discovered that Kubrick had decided to ditch North’s score and stick with his own cut-and-pasted “guide” score.

Kubrick had assembled his “guide” score from a wildly disparate selection of pieces or movements—from Ligeti to Richard Strauss to Johann Strauss II to Khachaturian, and then back to Ligeti. So North, at the time a rather successful film composer whose credits included A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misfits, and Spartacus, was left holding the bag in public, at least in terms of professional reputation (and almost doubtless in various financial senses). Reportedly, Kubrick was so difficult for North to work with that North supervised the recording sessions for his score while lying in a hospital bed brought in for the purpose, because of stress-induced muscle spasms in his back.

I don’t think the same thing could have happened with Kubrick’s under-rated Thackeray adaptation Barry Lyndon. After the surprising success of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s soundtrack LP, I think Kubrick always would again decide to pick his own music—and brook no opposition. And because Barry Lyndon is a costume drama set in the mid-18th century, it is likely Kubrick did not get any pushback from studio executives about using classical (and some folk) music. For Barry Lyndon, Kubrick chose music from Irish traditional-music greats The Chieftans; and from Schubert, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Frederick the Great, Vivaldi, and Paisiello.

As I have written before, I think that the climactic third and final duel scene in Barry Lyndon inspired Ridley Scott’s penultimate scene (“Tears in Rain”) in the original Blade Runner film. Not incidentally, the final duel in the film Barry Lyndon was entirely Kubrick’s own invention; it does not appear in Thackeray’s novel.

A Trio Wanderer Schubert Trio op. 100 slow-movement live performance video, and more commentary, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Ioana Cristina Goicea: Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

The Internet radio station I listen to most often is Bavarian Radio’s Classical channel. To get to it, click here and scroll down to the “Radio” section of the home page, and then click on the “BR Klassik” tile. A pop-up window will appear with the BR player application. I should do a separate blog entry on br.de; for the moment, all I need to tell you is that its programming is a refreshing breath of fresh air, especially if you are sick of US commercial (or, for that matter, much of “public”) classical radio, where the “Mozart Minute” is followed by “Drivetime With Dvorák.” A welcome feature of br.de is frequent delayed broadcast of live concerts.

So, the other morning I clicked on the BR Klassik tile, and I was greeted by the familiar sounds of the first movement of Brahms’ violin concerto. In mere seconds, my ears were decisively grabbed. I played a little game with myself, not looking at the player app and trying to guess the identity of the violinist. Hmmm… this one’s a toughie! Sounds like a studio recording… . A huge and complex tone–one could imagine one was listening to chords on a pipe organ. Effortless technique. Thoughtful interpretative touches. A musical conception of the work as a whole, and not merely as a sequence of technical challenges. No playing fast, only for the sake of playing fast. Hmmm. Not Oistrakh, not Menuhin, not Mutter. But a first-rank player, no doubt.

OK, I give up. Oh. Ioana Cristina Goicea.

Now, the 2018 winner’s performance of the Brahms concerto from the German Music Competition (held this March in Siegburg) does not appear to be available on demand. So I have posted the next best thing, a performance of the Tchaikovsky (from the Michael Hill International Violin Competition) that exhibits all of the virtues noted above. Ms. Goicea, born in Bucharest, is reportedly still pursuing her graduate studies in Germany. All I can say is, she’s one to watch—and more importantly, to listen to. Will some international concert management firm please sign her, pronto?

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Dan Bern: “Jerusalem”

My post about Gidon Kremer & Co.’s chamber-orchestra version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” (from the soundtrack of Marco Bellocchio’s film version of Pirandello’s Henry IV) had as its jumping-off point a rumination on the Nobel Prize in Literature. After listing many literary luminaries who never got the award, I did say, “Still and all, there are a few unimpeachable selections (Bob Dylan, in my opinion, is most definitely not among them).”

In my opinion, handing the award that should have gone to James Joyce but never did, to Bob Dylan, just sealed the deal as far as the Nobel Literature Prize’s being a cross between the Nobel Peace Prize and a popularity poll. Who is next? Danielle Steel? (After all, she has sold 800 million copies of her more than 150 books.)

So, I have long thought that it was past high time that Mr. Zimmerman could use being taken down a peg or two. I am hugely glad to report that Dan Bern has done just that for us (and if “Jerusalem” is not a Bob Dylan Parody, time is out of joint… ).

Dan Bern’s “Jerusalem” has it all: the mind-numbingly repetitious guitar playing; the whiny vocal; the total self-absorption of the lyrics; the apocalyptic grandiosity of the vision; and, most of all, the passive-aggressive approach to affairs of the heart (“Accept my love, don’t test my love/ ‘Cause maybe I don’t love you all that much”). I particularly love that the singer’s therapist’s name is Dr. Nusbaum, which is close to the German for “Nut Tree.”

One might quip that the specialty of Dan Bern’s house is “Filet of Bob Dylan.”

Well done!

(Thanks to Positive Feedback Online‘s Clark Johnsen for introducing me to this song.)

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Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica: Astor Piazzolla, “Oblivion” from “Henry IV”

I think that the assertion that the Nobel Prize in Literature is essentially silly (and therefore, we are fools for taking it seriously) has something to be said for it. (Those happen to be the positions of the British novelist and translator Tim Parks.)

Not one of: James Joyce, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Henry James, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Mark Twain, Nabokov and Chekhov made the cut. But strange omissions compete with strange awardings—John Steinbeck “got the gong” (a slang term for a large medallion), yet James Joyce did not? Furthermore, the requirement that a candidate must be alive to receive the prize meant that late-blooming (or posthumously published) authors such as Kafka, Proust, Calvino, and Mandelstam could not even be considered.

Still and all, there are a few unimpeachable selections (Bob Dylan, in my opinion, is most definitely not among them).

In my opinion, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Solzhenitsyn, Faulkner, and Hermann Hesse all deserved the money and the medal. I even think that Sigrid Undset (who?) was a deserving recipient. Undset’s massive (1400 pages) Medieval trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter should be much better known. I am tempted to say that if you loved The Lord of the Rings, you should try Kristin Lavransdatter. (In the period when she was “working up to” Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset had published a Norwegian translation of the Arthurian legends.)

For what all this has to do with Gidon Kremer and Astor Piazzolla, please click on the jump link. Continue Reading →

Hyperion Knight at the Alexander Piano

What is it about Australians, New Zealanders and Tasmanians and grand pianos??? At the ripe age of 15 years, Adrian Mann asked his piano teacher how long a piano bass string would have to be, not to require a copper wire over-wrap (to add mass, and thereby lower the resonant frequency). Her answer was, “Very long.” Over the next several years, young Adrian taught himself to build a piano almost entirely from scratch; the result is nearly 19 feet long. He is now doing business under the name Alexander Piano. Hyperion Knight was on tour in that part of the world, and so he stopped in, with the above result. There are two other Hyperion K. videos on Alexander Piano’s YouTube page.

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Glenn Gould: Richard Strauss, “Morgen” op. 27, no. 4 (solo-piano excerpt)

In terms of cultural impact in the broadest sense, Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

Susan Sontag once quipped that every analogy is a lie, so: you have been warned. I think that Glenn Gould’s place in classical music in the mid-twentieth century is analogous to Miles Davis’ place in jazz during that same era. If people owned only one real jazz LP, it likely was Kind of Blue; and if people owned only one real classical LP, it likely was Gould’s J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations. Gould, more than any other pianist, is associated with the Goldberg Variations, to the extent that the opening measures of the “Aria” are carved on his gravestone.

Unlike most classical pianists of the time, Gould largely ignored the 19th-c. Romantic piano repertory exemplified by Chopin and Liszt, concentrating instead on Renaissance and Baroque music. Gould brought early music before the general public at a time when it was almost exclusively the province of academic specialists, or performers on period-correct instruments. In 1956, Gould’s intuitive understanding of Bach’s style of counterpoint, and his unprecedented clarity of articulation on the grand piano fell like a thunderclap, upon critics and the listening public alike. (Gould’s first Goldbergs album was recorded in 1955, but released in 1956.) Gould’s 1955 Goldbergs remain one of the best-selling non-crossover classical recordings of all time.

What Gould revered in Bach was his sense of sonic architecture. I think that the heart of Bach’s art was that Bach created ordered musical structures to reflect the nature of a God who had created an ordered cosmos that was (largely) comprehensible by the use of reason. (Yes; I know. I am painting with a brush so broad that it can’t fit into a one-gallon paint can.) Therefore, it might not come as a total surprise that in this video clip from a television interview, Gould takes Richard Strauss to task for his Romantic self-indulgence. Or, does he really?

More wild guessing from John, and sound bytes from different performances of Richard Strauss’ early song “Morgen,” after the jump. Continue Reading →

Joseph Silverstein: Edward Elgar, Violin Concerto (conclusion); Boston Symphony, Colin Davis

From the Boston Symphony’s YouTube channel, here is the conclusion of the October 24, 1972 performance by Joseph Silverstein (who was then the Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony), of Edward Elgar’s Op. 61 violin concerto in B minor. The guest conductor is Colin Davis (who was knighted eight years later). By the way, at 1 minute 26 seconds, I believe I hear Colin Davis humming (or groaning) along, to bring out the big tune. (In Elgar, there’s usually a big tune.) The video runs from slightly before the (accompanied) cadenza through the end of the third, final movement.

Elgar’s violin concerto is one of the longest and most demanding violin concertos in the standard repertory. Its running time (modern recordings average circa 50 minutes) is about twice that of the most popular violin concertos (those of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky). In addition to the demands Elgar’s concerto makes on the soloist’s endurance, his concerto presents many technical challenges. And portions of this video give an excellent birds-eye view of Silverstein’s rising to meet those violinistic demands.

Although Elgar’s rhapsodic style here, which is both discursive and intensely emotional, might take a bit of getting used to, I find that through the years, Elgar’s has always been one of my favorite violin concertos. And, as you will see as you read on past the jump link, I agree with my friend Bob Ludwig: that with Elgar, the interpretation makes the performance—this is not music that “plays itself.” Continue Reading →

Chamber Choir of Europe, Nicol Matt: Lauridsen “Sure On This Shining Night” Making-Of

James Agee (1909-1955) had a difficult and comparatively brief life. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, his life was upended at age six when his father was killed in an automobile accident. Thereafter, Agee and his younger sister Emma were sent off to various boarding schools. Agee was a member of the class of 1932 at Harvard. Upon graduation, he went to work for Time, Inc.’s magazine Fortune. In 1934, he published his only volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage.

In 1938 Agee wrote a brief prose piece, “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” that Samuel Barber later (1948) set for soprano and orchestra. In 1938, Barber had set another Agee text, “Sure On This Shining Night,” a brief untitled poetic fragment from Permit Me Voyage. Barber’s “Shining Night” setting is solidly in the core or standard repertory, both in its solo-voice and choral versions. More recently (2005), composer Morten Lauridsen’s choral setting of “Sure On This Shining Night” has earned worldwide currency for its soulful treatment of Agee’s enigmatic, pensive, yet I think ultimately hopeful lines.

Agee later participated in the writing of two of the most famous films of the era, The African Queen and Night of the Hunter. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his autobiographical novel A Death In the Family. Agee’s reputation as a writer is usually thought to rest upon A Death In the Family and his Depression-era journal Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But it cannot be doubted that Agee was one of the most important English-language art-music lyricists of the 20th century. That is, as long as one judges by quality, and not merely quantity.

Text, commentary, and a news flash, all after the jump. Continue Reading →

SWR Vokalensemble, Marcus Creed: Morton Feldman, “Rothko Chapel”

Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel is scored for solo viola, solo alto voice, solo soprano voice, mixed chorus, and celesta; with percussion consisting of bass drum, chimes, gong, temple block, tenor drum, timpani, vibraphone, and wood block. Feldman (1926-1987) composed Rothko Chapel in 1971, specifically for the building of that name, in Houston, Texas, which was a gift to the public from the Ménil Foundation. The Rothko Chapel (Wiki) (Home Page) was designed to house and display 14 huge canvases the Ménil Foundation commissioned from the American Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970).

My personal opinion is that Feldman’s Rothko Chapel is one of the most magically organic pieces of modern music. But I can also easily envision the possible so-so (or negative) reactions, that the music was meant be the soundtrack to an aromatherapy session, or that the paintings are what happens when a depressive can only afford half-empty cans of house paint, in the dullest possible hues.

Both Rothko and Feldman declined to embrace the prevailing or at least most talked-about artistic trends—of self-conscious Modernism (such as Pop Art) in painting, and of 12-tone academic serialism in music. Even so, the challenging (or, numinous) nature of Rothko’s paintings and of the music they inspired does force one to confront the question whether some mid-20th-century art was only “the Emperor’s New Clothes.” More after the jump. Continue Reading →

Jennifer Warnes: “Song of Bernadette”

Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma (née Schindler) had a marriage that was often troubled. Mahler started out on the wrong foot by insisting that his musically-talented (and, much younger) fiancée renounce her own ambitions to write serious music. (Alma had already composed some songs, and had worked on some instrumental music, as well as an opera sketch). Years later, a hammer-blow of fate befell Gustav and Alma with the death of their five-year old daughter Maria Anna. That shock was followed by the hammer-blow of Gustav’s diagnosis with the heart defect that eventually caused his early death.

Mahler only later discovered that, reeling from her daughter’s death (and, doubtless, also reeling from Mahler’s determination to isolate himself, so he could put on paper all the music that was within him, before it was too late), Alma had taken up romantically (and sexually) with a young architecture student named Walter Gropius.

For what all of that has to do with Jennifer Warnes, you will have to clink on the jump link to find out. Continue Reading →