My first sweet sorrow

The title of this CD, Il primo dolce affanno (The first sweet sorrow) is taken from Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, one of the sonnets by Francesco Petrarca. With this, already, seventh part of the series Il Salotto (The Salon), Opera Rara presents a delightful selection of songs, tunes and duets from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century repertoire. (ORR230)

Bruce Ford sings ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’:

The three Petrarca sonnets in Franz Liszt’s irresistibly beautiful setting serve as the guiding principle; for the rest, the CD mainly offers unknown compositions by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Camille Saint-Säens, Prince Józef Poniatowski, Federico Ricci, Antonio Carlos Gomes, Antonio Buzzolla and Giuseppe Verdi. And, something to think about: why are these gems hardly ever performed?

Only Buzzolla’s ‘Barcarola’ for three voices is a little disappointing, which may be because of William Matteuzzi’s uncertain intonation.

For the rest, the singers (Elisabeth Vidal, Laura Claycomb, Manuela Custer, Bruce Ford, Roberto Servile and Alastair Miles) are absolutely excellent. They are also exceptionally well accompanied .

Elisabeth Vidal zingt ‘Theme varie for soprano’ van Camille Saint-Saens :

Carolyn Sampson and her flowers

© Marco Borggreve

On Tuesday, 14 April 2015, the British soprano Carolyn Sampson, much loved mainly by early music lovers, made her appearance in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw with a not so very common programme. This time it was not so much about the composers, but about …. flowers. So no Bach, Handel or Purcell or… but, wait a minute! The last one was indeed represented, because he too paid an ode to the rose.

The Concertgebouw’s website summed up Sampson’s recital nicely: “Normally, opera diva Sampson gets flowers thrown at her, but tonight she offers the audience a bouquet.

With her floral recital, Sampson travelled all over Europe, for which there was also a good commercial reason: the Swedish company BIS released her long-awaited new solo album, Fleurs. Roses, lots and lots of roses, but also snowdrops, jasmine and lily of the valley are not forgotten.

The afternoon before her recital, I met her in the Concertgebouwcafé. It was as if the weather gods had granted her and her flowers that little bit extra: the day was warm and sunny, with a perfectly blue sky. Her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter was playing outside, while her six-year-old son had had to stay at home: he was already of school age and so it just was not possible to take him to Amsterdam.

The children are the main reason she does so little opera, because she would have to be away from home so very often, and she is just not willing to do that. Home is Freiburg, where she has lived for nine years with her husband, who has a job with the Freiburger Barockorchester.

“I do my best not to do more than two projects a month, but sometimes it is difficult to fit it all into the schedule. In April and certainly in May, I am always busier than I would like to be. And don’t ask me why, I just don’t know.
Of course, all kinds of Passions and Easter Oratorios come along then, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. My recitals get also programmed more often in those two months.”

Doesn’t Bach get a bit boring during those months?
“Can someone have too much Bach? Oh no, oh no! Bach is never boring, especially not the two passions. I always discover something new in them”.

“I come from a family of teachers, my father was a maths teacher. Music did not really play a role in our familiy, but at home we had a piano that was always being played.
When I discovered my voice, I went to the conservatoire, but the plan was really to become a music teacher. I wanted that too, it also fitted in perfectly with the family tradition. My teacher did not agree. He thought I had much more to offer and so I was sent to London, where I had to report to Harry Christophers of The Sixteen. And then it happened as it always does: a singer fell ill and I filled in. That was in Handel’s Samson”.

Duet “Welcome as the dawn of day” from Handel’s Samson:

Sampson has already given three recitals in Amsterdam, and she remembers them well. In an earlier performance with Julius Drake she sang among other things various French songs. Repertoire after her own heart. Before the break she sang Liszt and Brahms and after the break came the French songs: Fauré and Debussy.

“Yes, you can safely say that I love French songs, they really do something for me. I also particularly love Poulenc. In 2014, together with Capella Amsterdam, I recorded his Stabat Mater for Harmondia Mundi. I sang it with tears in my eyes. So, so beautiful!”

“I would therefore really love to sing Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites, it really is my dream role! Hopefully, one day, something will come of, but for the time being she is not yet in the planning. But soon I will sing a role in another beautiful French opera: Melisande! I’m not allowed to tell you anything about that yet, but please know that I’m really looking forward to it!”

‘Vidit suum dulcem natum’ from Poulenc’s Stabat Mater:

“I also particularly like the romantic symphonic repertoire. If I could ever be home alone and have an evening to myself, without any obligations whatsoever, I would put on Mahler’s Second Symphony, I love it. But also Brahms 4 and the Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz. Or anything by Shostakovich, I love his fierceness!”

“I prefe to sing recitals, they are of the utmost importance to me, in the future I want to concentrate on them even more.”

“About my flower project…..
It was Joseph Middleton, my pianist, who came up with the idea. We are not just partners, we are also good friends. So he knows me really well and knows what suits me. So he thought that it was nonsense to come up with the umpteenth Schubert or Schumann, that it would be much more fun to do something with a theme.
The theme of “flowers” was an obvious one. There are so very many songs about flowers! Well, all right then, also about love, sex and women, but … But a flower is actually just like a woman. And vice versa. Yes, isn’t it?

The programme is divided into four sections: the rose, when the flowers speak, a French bouquet and flower girls by Strauss

“Is it true that all sopranos love Strauss? Yes, I think so. Maybe because he loved sopranos so much himself? He composed his most beautiful music for the soprano voice. Actually, he wrote very few songs for the tenor, but when I hear his songs interpreted by Jonas Kaufmann I get quite weak in the knees!”

Sampson’s latest CD just won’t go out of my head, that’s how much I like it. Whether it is Purcell’s surprisingly spicy “Sweeter than Roses”, Fauré’s lightly perfumed “Les roses d’Ispahan”, Strauss’ ethereal “Mädchenblumen” or Lili Boulanger’s poetically sensual “Les Lilas qui avaient fleuri”: it is all very beautiful.


Of course, I could search for all kinds of superlatives to better describe both the choice of songs and Sampson’s crystal-clear voice, but a simple “beautiful” will do, I think. It’s like all the flowers she sings about: bright, fleeting and transient. Like everything else, really.

About Eisler, Brecht, exile and Hollywood

We live in very strange times. One composer after another emerges from oblivion and starts a (re)new(ed) march to victory. At least, if he (she) is lucky, because nothing is as short as the human memory and many of the ‘excavated’ composers are already covered in a thick layer of dust, after they have been performed and/or recorded only once (or maybe twice). For: “No day without Bach” and Beethoven’s piano concertos really do have to be recorded for the hundred millionth time.

Hanns Eisler has never _really_ been forgotten, which he owes in part to his friend and author of the texts for his songs and cantatas, Bertolt Brecht. In 1998, Decca’s ‘Entartete Musik’ series released its second CD of Eisler’s music: songs he composed during his exile in Hollywood.

Eisler was not alone in seeking refuge in the Mecca of film industry and trying his luck there, and he too has participated in a few films. His main occupation, however, was teaching, first in New York and Mexico and from 1942 at the University of Southern California.

Eisler and Brecht in Leipzig

In Hollywood, Eisler was united with Brecht and in May of that year he started working on the ‘Hollywood Songbook’. For most of the songs he composed between May ’42 and December ’43, he used poems that Brecht wrote during his stay in Scandinavia in the years 1938 – 1940 (the so-called ‘Steffinsche Sammlung’),

When Brecht temporarily stayed in New York, Eisler turned to other poets: Hölderlin, Pascal, Eichendorff, Goethe. There is an essential difference between the settings: the ‘Brecht Lieder’ are often bitter, aggressive, sometimes cabaretesque in nature; the others tend to be more melancholic, more melodious, more rooted in the tradition of the art of song.

Matthias Goerne, despite his young age (he was 31 at the time of the recording), was no longer an unknown quantity and already had a few recitals to his name. He has a wonderful timbre and sings with full understanding of the texts. Unfortunately, he is far too much like his illustrious predecessor (I will not name names) and that is a bit disturbing to me, although it may be a recommendation for someone else. Peanuts, actually, because as far as I know it’s the only recording of the complete ‘Hollywood Songbook’, so if you come across it: buy it!
He is accompanied by Eric Schneider in an exceptionally skilful way.

Hans Eisler
The Hollywood Songbook
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Eric Schneider (piano)
Decca 460582-2

If you want to know what a jazzed-up ‘Hollywood Songbook’ sounds like, listen to Laurent Naouri. It’s quite fun to discover how very Weill-like Eisler sounds here. Listen to ‘Kalifornischer Herbst’, which could have come straight out of one of his ‘shows’.
It is a CD that is best listened to at night, with a glass of whisky.

Hanns Eisler and Sergei Prokofiev
Hollywood Songbook (extracts) & Improvised Variations
Laurent Naouri (bass-baritone), Guillaume de Chassy (piano), Thomas Savy (clarinets) Arnault Cuisinier (double bass)
Alpha 210

Dying with Dame Janet Baker

I must admit that I really don’t like Handel. But I am still going to recommend a CD that is almost half- filled with his arias. Is that possible? Yes, it is possible, because true beauty transcends all prejudices and preferences.

The short ‘O had I Jubal’s Lyre'(Joshua) is quickly forgotten at the first notes of ‘Che farò senza Euridice’.

Recording from Glyndebourne 2004:

Sung so beautifully and so longingly that one is not able to pay much attention to the following ‘Care selve’ (Atalanta). And with ‘Plaisir d’amour’, it is already certain that you will never want to part with this CD, and you just have to surrender yourself to the beauty of it all.

Janet Baker sings “Plaisir d’amour” (TV recital, 1982):

You swoon at ‘Amarilli mia bella’, because nobody on earth has sung it more beautifully. ‘Che puro Ciel’, makes your eyes fill up with tears and you know for sure that this must be the highlight of the CD. Because even more emotion, even more beauty… no, that cannot not possible. And then it comes: the lament of Dido from Dido & Aeneas by Purcell.

Janet Baker as Dido (1966 recording):

The young Baker (the recording is from 1962) turns you into her Belinda, her confidante. You see her lips tremble and you want to comfort her and tell her that it will all be all right, but it won’t be all right and you just die with her.

The legendary lady Janet Baker
Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Purcell. Martini, Giordani

 Holland Festival 1959 or La Divina in Amsterdam

1959 was a good Callas year. In January that year she first sang at Carnegie Hall, where she gave a concert performance of Il Pirata. It was a great triumph. This was followed by a few Medea’s(Cherubini) in London and a short tour in Spain and Germany.

And then the great moment arrived: her long-awaited performance in Amsterdam. Thousands of people gathered at Schiphol Airport to greet her.

Maria Callas arrives in the Netherlands in 1959. On the right: Peter Diamand, chairman of the Holland Festival.

The lights in the Hall were extinguished and all the spotlights were on her as she descended the Concertgebouw steps. Only the musicians of the Concertgebouw Orchestra had lights on their desks, which, according to witnesses, had wrapped the stage in a romantic atmosphere.

Callas was then technically at the height of her powers. She began with a tather cautiously sung ‘Tu che vedi il mio tormento’ from Spontini’s La vestale, but with ‘Surta è la notte’ from Verdi’s Ernani she already let go of all brakes.

The audience went wild with enthusiasm, which stimulated Callas to become even more intense and dramatic in her perfectly intoned reading of ‘Tu che le vanità ‘ (Don Carlo). She finished with the mad scene from Il Pirata, a true tour-de-force.

She gave every note a different colour, her pianissimo was breathtaking and the coloraturas optimal. A true Divina. If only I had been there then!

Spontini, Verdi, Bellini
Live in Amsterdam 1959
Maria Callas, Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Nicola Rescigno
EMI 5626832

Renée Fleming sings Berg, Wellesz and Zeisl. A must buy!

Fleming Berg Zeisl

There is no shortage of recordings of Berg’s Lyric Suite. Both in the version for string quartet and in the version for chamber orchestra: the choices are many. Whether it was Berg’s intention we cannot really know for certain, but we assume it was: the last movement, the Largo Desolato,  may also be sung.

Theodor Adorno, Berg’s pupil and confidant, considered the work to be an almost latent opera and that makes sense. Adorno was one of the few who knew about Berg’s affair with the married Hanna Fuchs, for whom he composed the work. For Berg, Fuchs was not only his lover and muse, but also his Isolde and his Lulu.

Hanna Fuchs

It is not the first time, by the way, that the poem by Baudelauire, the source of inspiration for the last part of the quartet, is actually sung. The Kronos Quartet and Dawn Upshaw had already recorded the version in 2003, there is also a recording by Quator Diotima with Sandrine Piau. The “Emersons”, however, offer us both versions: with and without vocals.

The decision to link Berg’s Lyric Suite to the songs of Egon Wellesz is nothing less than genius. Both composers had received their training from Schönberg, who had taught them not only the twelve-tone technique, but also to use a large dose of expressionism. Something you hear very clearly in the cycle Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett Browning.

Fleming Wellesz door Kokoschka
Egon Wellesz painted by Oskar Kokoschka

That the songs are not performed more often is not only strange, but also a great shame. Of course, this has everything to do with the “once forbidden and then forgotten” attitude, which has also been fatal for Eric Zeisl. His short song Komm Süsser Tod makes us long for more: couldn’t there be some Zeisl added to the CD? It’s not the lack of space: at just 56 minutes, the CD is very short.

Fleming Zeisl
Eric Zeisl pfoto made by Gertrud Zeisl © Dr. Barbara Zeisl-Schoenberg

Renée Fleming’s creamy, cultured soprano and her mannerism fit the songs like a glove. The result is a beautiful cross between Gustav Klimmt and Max Beckmann. The very imaginative and expressive performance by the Emerson String Quartet adds to the overall experience. A must!

Alban Berg, Egon Wellesz, Eric Zeisl
Lyric Suite; Sonette der Ellisabeth Barrett Browning; Komm Süsser Tod
Renée Fleming, soprano; Emerson String Quartet
Decca 4788399

Folk Stories: teleurstellende eerste solo cd van Cora Burggraaf

In 2013 heeft Cora Burggraaf haar debuut-cd uitgebracht bij Challenge Classics: volksliedjes van zeven verschillende componisten, in vijf verschillende talen. Het is een interessante selectie, maar met de uitvoering ben ik minder gelukkig.

Wie Cora Burggraf in haar beginjaren, toch echt niet zo lang geleden heeft gehoord die vergeet haar niet zo gauw. Een sprankelende jonge vrouw met dito stem en vol joie de vivre. Goed thuis zowel in liederen als in opera en begenadigd met meer dan gemiddelde acteervermogen. Ooit wilde zij zich meer op het acteren toeleggen, wat resulteerde in een onvergetelijke Ophelia tijdens de Rotterdam Operadagen 2009.

Mijn impressie van toen:

“De voorstelling met de titel Ophelia was buitengewoon interessant. Het was een onewomanshow, met en door de Nederlandse mezzo Cora Burggraaf. De productie – eigenlijk een toneelstuk gelardeerd met liederen, van o.a Strauss, Brahms, Berlioz en Chausson, maar ook Nick Cave’s ‘Wild rose’ – kwam op de initiatief van de zangeres tot stand en het eindresultaat was fascinerend.

Persoonlijk had ik meer muziek en minder tekst gewild, maar het concept van de avond was boeiend, wat we aan de veelzijdige zangeres hadden te danken. Het einde, waarin zij ‘La Mort d’Ophelie’ van Berlioz zong in de pose van de beroemde schilderij van John Everett Millais was van een ontroerende schoonheid. “

Voor haar eerste solo cd, ‘Volksvertellingen’, heeft ze bij zeven verschillende componisten ‘geshopt’ en van hun zettingen van volksliedjes een spannende collectie samengesteld, die ze in vijf verschillende talen zingt.

Burggraaf heeft een heel erg prettige stem, wat je al in de gesproken intro hoort. Maar in de liederen klinkt ze soms hinderlijk kinderlijk. Af en toe zingt ze ook tegen de toon aan, wat ik eigenlijk minder erg vind dan de naïeve benadering van de door haar gezongen liederen.

In de ‘Ierse Volksliedjes’ van Beethoven pakt haar benadering goed uit, maar Respighi overtuigt mij maar matig, bij Bartók mis ik het ritme en bij Mahler de sardonische humor. Echt mis gaat het echter bij ‘The bonny Earl o’ Moray’ van Britten. Het is geen kinderliedje.

Ik had het niet erg gevonden als het gezongen werd door een volksliedzangeres, maar aan een klassiek geschoold iemand stel ik hogere eisen. Begrijp mij goed: het is niet zo dat het resultaat echt slecht is – ik denk dat ik diep onder de indruk zou komen als ik in het theater of bij een houtvuur hoorde. Maar thuis, op mijn bank en met de centrale verwarming aan, verlang ik naar iemand die mij toezingt in plaats van mij dingen te vertellen.

De begeleiding is absoluut superieur. Simon Lepper volgt haar zonder morren, de klank van zijn piano is mild en toegestemd op haar wensen. En Liza Ferschtman en Floris Meijnders (Beethoven) doen precies dat wat van ze verwacht wordt: goed spelen.

Folk Stories: liederen van  Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten, Mahler, Respighi, Sibelius en J.Vogel (Ketelbinkie)
Cora Burggraf (mezzosopraan), Simon Lepper (piano), Lisa Ferschtman (viool), Floris Meijnders (cello)
Challenge Classics CC72346

Anne Schwanewilms en Wagner

Anne Schwanewilms geldt als één van de grootste sopranen van haar tijd, zeker in het Duitse Fach. Strauss, voornamelijk, maar ook Wagner is aan haar besteed.

Ooit heeft Orfeo Schwanewilms’ lezing van de Vier letzte Lieder opgenomen, gekoppeld aan fragmenten uit Arabella, Capriccio en Der Rosenkavalier. Het was een mooie cd, die echter niet de aandacht kreeg die het verdiende.

Een encore zou daarom niet misstaan. Of een opname van liederen van Franz Schreker, om in dezelfde sfeer te blijven. Daar is Schwanewilms namelijk ook goed in thuis.

Dat zij juist (in de Strauss-jaar nota bene) voor Wagner heeft gekozen vond ik een beetje vreemd. Natuurlijk kan zij ook Wagner zingen (wat eigenlijk niet?) en er is weinig op haar cd aan te merken, maar toch… Ik vind haar Elisabeth in Tannhäuser een beetje schreeuwerig, alsof de partij boven haar macht ligt, al is dat beslist niet zo. Misschien klinkt zij voor mij niet naïef genoeg?

De Wesendonck-Lieder liggen haar beter, maar het mooist vind ik haar in Isoldes Liebestod. Hier komt haar sensuele stem het beste tot zijn recht.

Het ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra speelt heel erg mooi. Wellicht iets minder mysterieus dan gebruikelijk, maar die ‘down to earth’-lezing bevalt mij zeer. De jonge Cornelius Meister, toen nog maar 34, haalt klanken en kleuren uit de partituur die ik er niet eerder in hoorde.

Hieronder de trailer van de opname:

ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra olv Cornelius Meister
Capriccio C 5174

Requiem van Verdi met lange adem

Het Requiem van Verdi geldt onbetwist als een van de mooiste muziekstukken ooit geschreven. Een open deur? Beslist, en toch valt je dat telkens weer op, zeker als je het een poos niet hebt gehoord.

Op de een of andere manier was Semyon Bychkov, broer van ooit onze chef-dirigent van het Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest en het Nederlands Kamerorkest, Jakov Kreizberg, was hier vroeger zelden gevraagd. Verbazingwekkend eigenlijk als je weet hoe hij in andere landen werd gewaardeerd.

Vanaf 1998 was hij een vaste chef-dirigent van het WDR orkest in Keulen, waarmee hij ettelijke cd’s heeft opgenomen. In 2007 kwam er, live opgenomen Verdi’s Requiem er bij.

Semyon Bychkov is een man van de lange adem: hij articuleert breed en neem rustig de tijd voor. Toch doet hij er ruim acht minuten korter over dan mijn ‘ijkpunten’, Claudio Abbado en Carlo Maria Giulini. Op zijn mooist is hij als hij de noten vloeiend in elkaar laat overlopen, zoals in ‘Lacrimosa’, in een waarlijk belcanteske stijl. Ontroerend.

Van het solistenkwartet, allen zeer ervaren Verdi vertolkers, bevallen de mannen mij het best. Ferrucio Furlanetto beschikt over een sonore, zeer warme bas, waarmee hij acteert alsof zijn leven er van afhangt.

Met zijn gave om pure lyriek met gevoel voor drama te combineren weet Ramón Vargas ‘Ingemisco’ naar de bijzondere hoogten te tillen.

Violeta Urmana, Olga Borodina, Ramón Vargas, Ferrucio Furlanetto
WDR Sinfonieorchester, WDR Rundfunchor olv Semyon Bychkov
Hänssler SACD PH08036

La bellezza del canto: over Olga Peretyatko’s eerste cd, tien jaar na de verschijning

Olga Peretyatko is meer dan de zoveelste ‘rising star’ uit één van die landen die vroeger eufemistisch ‘het Oostblok’ heette. Niet alleen ziet zij er werkelijk prachtig uit en kan ze goed acteren, zij kan eveneens – en dat is natuurlijk het allerbelangrijkste – zingen. En hoe!

Zij heeft een lichte, zeer wendbare stem met een stralende hoogte en haar coloraturen zijn gewoon perfect. En denk niet dat zij de zoveelste ‘kanariepiet’ is! Olga Peretyatko is een echte nachtegaal.

Op donderdag twaalf januari 2012 zong ze bij de Nationale Opera de première van (hoe toepasselijk!) De Nachtegaal van Igor Strawinsky en in april dat jaar kwam ze terug voor Il Turco in Italia van Rossini.

Trailer van Nachtegaal:

Trailer van Il Turco in Italia:

Op haar debuut-cd bij Sony, met een zeer toepasselijke titel La bellezza di canto, ontbreekt ook de aria van Fiorilla niet. Voor de rest veel Donizetti en nog een Rossini: ‘Canzone del salice’, de aria van Desdemona uit Otello. Dat je daar van moet huilen, ligt uiteraard voornamelijk aan de muziek, maar zo mooi en zo ontroerend gezongen heb ik het zelden gehoord.

Verder staat er van alles en nog wat. Gilda, Manon (Massenet), Adele (Die Fledermuis)  … Ook “Het lied aan de maan” uit Rusalka ontbreekt er niet.

Eerlijk gezegd is het een beetje ratjetoe, maar als het zo gezongen wordt dan mag het van mij ook een telefoonboek zijn. Ik ben zeer onder de indruk.

Olga Peretyatko
La belezza del canto
Aria’s van Rossini, Donizetti, Massenet, Offenbach, Dvořák, Puccini en Johann Strauss
Münchner Rundfunkorchester olv Miguel Gómez-Martínez
Sony 88697785442