English

Die Teufel von Loudun

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Krzysztof Penderecki

In 1967 Rolf Liebermann approached Krzysztof Penderecki with the request to compose an opera for Hamburg. The result was Die Teufel von Loudun, for which the composer himself had written the libretto. The story is based on a true event: in Loudun (France) in 1634, a Prioress of the Ursuline Order accused a priest of diabolical practices for which he was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

The opera had its world premiere on 20 June 1969 and shortly afterwards it was filmed. The leading role of mother Jeanne was performed in a very impressive way by the great Tatiana Troyanos, whose career began in Hamburg. Her portrait of the hunchbacked demonically possessed nun with sexual visions is breathtaking. Everything about her, from head to toe, acts. Her facial expression changes with every phrase she sings and her voice chills you to the bone.

Liebermann Penderski

The horror-like music with its many glissandi and octave leaps evokes a feeling of unease and makes the opera, despite the immense tension, rather uncomfortable to watch. The staging, with a lot of nudity and explicit sex scenes, is very progressive for that time and I can imagine it was experienced as shocking. By the way: did you know that William Friedkin used music by Penderecki for his film The Exorcist?

In het Nederlands

In 1967 benaderde Rolf Liebermann Krzysztof Penderecki met het verzoek een opera voor Hamburg te componeren. Het werd Die Teufel von Loudun, waarvoor de componist zelf het libretto had geschreven. Het verhaal is gebaseerd op een ware gebeurtenis: door het toedoen van een priores van de Ursulinenorde werd in het Franse Loudun in 1634 een priester van duivelse praktijken beschuldigd en tot de brandstapel veroordeeld.

De opera beleefde zijn wereldpremière op 20 juni 1969 en kort erna werd hij verfilmd. De hoofdrol van moeder Jeanne werd op een zeer indrukwekkende manier vertolkt door de grote Tatiana Troyanos, wier carrière in Hamburg was begonnen. Haar portrettering van de door duivels geplaagde gebochelde non met seksuele visioenen is duizelingwekkend. Alles aan haar, van top tot teen, acteert. Haar gezichtsuitdrukking verandert met elke gezongen frase en haar stem gaat door merg en been.

De horrorachtige muziek met haar vele glissandi en octavensprongen roept een gevoel van onbehagen op en maakt dat je, ondanks de immense spanning, toch wel ongemakkelijk in je stoel blijft zitten. De enscenering, met veel bloot en expliciete seksscènes is voor die tijd zeer vooruitstrevend en ik kan me voorstellen dat het toentertijd als shockerend werd ervaren.

Over muziek gesproken: wist u dat William Friedkin muziek van Penderecki gebruikte voor zijn film The Exorcist?

Music as ecstasy: Kathryn Stott plays Erwin Schulhoff

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In 1919 Erwin Schulhoff wrote: “Music should bring primarily physical pleasure, even ecstasy, to the listener. It is not philosophy: its roots lie in ecstatic situations and its expression lies in rhythm.”  No wonder the synthesis of jazz and classical music was not only a challenge for him, but eventually became his artistic credo.

In his time, Schulhoff (1894-1942) was highly appreciated as a composer and a virtuoso pianist. One review even speaks of an ‘absolutely perfect technique’ and a remarkable gift for improvisation.

The latter was particularly appreciated during his (live) radio performances, in which, of course, he also promoted his own jazz compositions. In 1928 he recorded several of his compositions for Polydor, including three from his Cinq Études de Jazz. These are particularly difficult works, which demand almost the impossible from the performer.

That Kathryn Stott has the required technique is obvious. Her recordings of piano music by Fauré, among others, earned her world fame and numerous prizes. She also deserves the greatest praise for her performance of Schulhoff’s jazz compositions. She plays the Etudes much slower than the composer, yet very rhythmical and extremely virtuosic. And yes: the pleasure of listening is indeed physical.

Ervín Schulhoff
Hot Music
Katryn Stott (piano)
BIS 1249

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Jacqueline du Pré. Because no reason is necessary.

Ever since the truly brilliant and now legendary movie Amadeus shattered Mozart’s reputation (or, on the contrary, boosted it), nobody is holy anymore.

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In Anand Tucker’s extremely bad – in contrast to the masterful Amadeus –  Hilary and Jackie it was the turn of star cellist Jacqueline du Pré.

Trailer of the film:

It was all over with her image of a cute girl: the darling of so many fans turned out to be a nymphomaniac, who was also jealous of her sister and went to bed with her brother-in-law. The film is based on the book of du Pré’s sister and brother, so I’m sure it’s all true, but: what does it matter to a serious music lover? Will he now listen to Edward Elgar’s cello concerto in any other way? I certainly won’t.

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Cellist Jacqueline Du Pre records Elgar’s Cello Concerto with conductor John Barbirolli at Kingsway Hall in London, 1965.
David Farrell/EMI Classics

Elgar and Jaqueline du Pré belong together, just like Chopin and Rubinstein or Vincent van Gogh and the sunflowers. Du Pré began to study the Elgar Concerto at the age of thirteen, under the inspired guidance of her teacher and ‘cello daddy’ Wiliam Pleeth, and in 1965 she made a recording of it, conducted by John Barbirolli.  This performance was already declared legendary at the time of its appearance, and when in 1970 a live recording with her husband Daniel Barenboim came out, opinions were clearly divided.

Du Pré, Elgar and Barbirolli:


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Du Pré, Elgar and Barenboim:

Even today it remains difficult to choose between the two. The recording with Barbirolli is almost perfect, but the one with Barenboim sparkles and twinkles more. It is clearly audible that two perfect soul mates are at work here. This recording was also used in ‘Hilary and Jackie’ and can be found, next to Pheloung’s music on the soundtrack from that movie (Sony 60394).

Du Pré and Barenboim performed a lot together, but made few studio recordings together. The plans were there but her illness struck and that was that. Luckily there are a lot of live recordings of their performances. Beethoven’s cello sonatas, for example. They were recorded during the Edinburgh Festival in 1970 (EMI 5733322).

In 1999 EMI collected all the recordings the BBC ever made of du Pré (now available as Warner 2435733775). Maréchal’s arrangements of the Falla from 1961 are a bit dubious, and her Couperin (1963) and Händel (1961) are a bit dated, but the joy that radiates from them compensates a lot, or perhaps everything.

Du Pré was a natural talent, her playing was inspired and characterised by great intensity, and the liberties she took are not disturbing, partly because of that. As Barenboim once said “she had a gift for making the listener feel that the music she played was being composed at that moment”.

 

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Kremerata Baltica leaves the listener open-mouthed and gasping for breath

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Gidon Kremer is one of the most ardent advocates of Weinberg’s music. This is also not the first time he has tackled his music. With his Kremerata Baltica and a few eminent guests, he has already recorded Weinberg’s chamber music works for CD in 2014. And the live recording of Weinberg’s violin sonata he made with Martha Argerich in Lugano has rightfully become legendary.

Kremer’s unsubtle way of playing and his almost animalistic drive are the best keys to the music of the Polish-Russian-Jewish composer who for decades – if not forgotten – had been lost in the madness of world history.

The recording of the first three chamber symphonies was made live in the Viennese Musikverein in June 2015. As expected, Kremer and his ensemble are more than ideal for the impetuous music of the composer who whimsically seemed to disregard all musical laws.

A foretaste (in poor sound quality): Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 147 – III Andante Sostenuto

The arrangement of the 1944 piano quintet may seem superfluous, but the addition of percussion does not miss its effect and makes the work more monumental and the tension is immense.

The fourth symphony was the last work Weinberg orchestrated. The addition of the clarinet solo does not miss its effect and leaves the listener gasping for breath with an open mouth. Which is certainly also thanks to the unparalleled playing of the clarinettist Mate Bekavac and the very muscular conducting of Mirga Grazynité-Tyla.

The fact that the inflated piano quintet and the fourth symphony sound slightly better than the other works can be explained: the recording was made in the studio.


MIECZYSŁAW WEINBERG
Chamber Symphonies; Piano Quintet
Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer (conductor and violin), Yulianna Avdeeva (piano), Andrei Pushkarev (percussion), Mate Bekavac (clarinet), Mirga Gražinité-Tyla (conductor)
ECM 2538/39 4814604 – 155′ (2cd’s)

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Minnie’s from Gigliola Frazzoni and Eleanor Steber

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Emmy Destinn (Minnie) at the premiere of La Fanciulla del West

Puccini’s women are never one-dimensional. That is expressed in his music, but who still understands the intentions behind the notes? Good Minnies are scarce these days, and to find the best, one has to go back to the nineteen fifties/sixties.

Like Salome, Minnie is loved and desired by men. Well, you say, she is the only woman in a rough world of miners inhabited only by guys. But it’s not that simple. She lives all alone in a remote hut and a few minutes after meeting a strange man, she invites him to her house. She smokes, and drinks whiskey. And she loves a game of cards, cheating if necessary.

In the scene leading up to the poker game, she says to the sheriff, “Who are you, Jack Rance? The owner of a gambling joint. And Johnson? A bandit. And me? The owner of a saloon and a gambling joint, I live off whiskey and gold, dancing and faro. We’re all the same! We’re all bandits and cheats!”

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Renata Tebaldi as Minnie

And I choose not to talk to you about Renata Tebaldi, even though she was one of the greatest (if not the greatest!) Minnie’s ever. She was lucky to have an exclusive contract with a leading record company (Decca), something her colleagues could only dream of.

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Gigliola Frazzoni as Minnie with Franco Corelli (Johnson)

That explains why few people, apart from a few opera-diehards, have ever heard of Gigliola Frazzoni or Eleanor Steber (to name but two). Believe me: neither soprano is inferior to Tebaldi. Just pay attention to the range of emotions they have at their disposal. They cry, sob, scream, roar, beg, suffer and love. Verismo at its best. You don’t need a libretto to understand what’s going on here.

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They sing as well, and how! All the notes are there. There’s no cheating. Well, something may go wrong during a live performance, but it is live, that’s drama, that’s opera. And let’s face it, when you play poker and your lover’s life is at stake, you don’t think about belcanto.

ELEANOR STEBER

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The recording with the American Eleanor Steber was made in 1954 at the Maggio Musicale in Florence (Regis RRC 2080). Steber’s soprano is very warm and despite the hysterical undertones of an almost perfect beauty.

Gian Giacomo Guelfi makes a devastating impression as Rance and the two together… well, forget Tosca and Scarpia! I don’t like Mario del Monaco, but Johnson was a role in which he truly shone. Mitropoulos conducts very dramatically with theatrical effects.

The recording can also be found on Spotify:


GIGLIOLA FRAZZONI

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The registration with Gigliola Frazzoni was made at La Scala in April 1956 (a.o. Opera d’Oro1318). Frazzoni sings very movingly: it is not always beautiful, but what drama!

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Franco Corelli is probably the most attractive bandit in history and Tito Gobbi as Jack Rance is a luxury. He is, what you call, a vocal actor. In his performance you can hear a lust for power and horniness, but also a kind of sentimental love.

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Franco Corelli as Johnson

Gigliola Frazzoni and Franco Corelli in ‘Mister Johnson siete rimasto indietro…Povera gente’.

The whole recording on Spotify:


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In Dutch:Minnie’s van Gigliola Frazzoni en Eleanor Steber

Silenced Voices

Silenced voices

Do you know the Black Oak Ensemble? There is a good chance you don’t, even though this American string trio, which barely anyone knows in the Netherlands, is rated as absolute top class. Its recent CD called Silenced Voices features pieces by six Jewish composers,  Géza Frid, Paul Hermann, Dick Kattenburg, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása and Sándor Kuti.

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Paul Hermann

They originally came from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands and with the exception of Géza Frid, who was active in the Dutch Resistance, they were all murdered. Hans Krása, Gideon Klein and Dick Kattenburg at Auschwitz. Sándor Kuti at a concentration camp in the Ukraine, probably in 1945 (!). But we don’t even know when or where the almost Dutch Paul Hermann was murdered.

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Sándor Kuti

Sándor Kuti studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Georg Solti, who had a great deal of respect for him and once said that if he had not been murdered, Kuti would have become one of the greatest composers of Hungary. I read that he continued to compose up until his death somewhere in the Ukraine.

His Serenade for String Trio (1934) was what touched me the most on this CD. Of course the fact that I had never heard this composition before could have influenced how it affected me, but even when I listened to it again, it intrigued and moved me. Despite the numerous quotes straight from Hungarian folk music, the trio got under my skin. Just listen to the mesmerizing Scherzando that turns into an ominous Adagio ma non troppo. Real goosebumps.

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Géza Frid

Géza Frid taught chamber music at the Utrecht Conservatory from 1964 to 1970, and his trio also had its world premiere here. Frid survived the war but died a horrifying death. The staff at his nursing home failed to check the temperature in his bathtub and he died at the Beverwijk Burn Centre.

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Hans Krása

Like Gideon Klein’s string trio, Hans Krása’s Passacaglia & Fugue for String Trio had already been recorded a couple of times, though still not often enough. Certainly not if you bear in mind that neither of the compositions are anything short of true masterpieces.

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Gideon Klein

There is also an earlier recording – one recording! – of Dick Kattenburg’s Trio à cordes. It had its world première on the incredible CD of The Hague String Trio. The composition only takes five minutes but what a five minutes they are!

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Dick Kattenburg: self portrait

The performance by the Black Oak Ensemble is simply sublime. I think you should all buy this CD!.


Kattenburg: Trio à cordes
Kuti: Serenade for String Trio 
Krása: Passacaglia & Fuga for String Trio
Klein: Trio for violin, viola, and cello
Hermann: Strijktrio
Frid: Trio à cordes, Op. 1
Black Oak Ensemble
Cedile Records CDR 90000 189

English translation: Sheila Gogol

 

 

 

About Victoria de los Angeles, a Madonna among opera singers.

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Victoria de los Angeles was without a doubt one of the most beautiful lyrical sopranos of her generation. She made her debut in 1945 at the Liceu in Barcelona as the Gräfin in Le Nozze di Figaro. Her international breakthrough came when she sang Salud in La vida breve by Manuel de Falla in 1948 for the BBC, a role she first performed in a staged performance at the Holland Festival in 1953.

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One year later she sang Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust in Paris and after that all the major stages in the world followed.

Her real name was Victoria Lopez Garcia. Why did she choose ‘de los Angeles’ as her stage name? It is not that important, but it fitted her like a glove. Not only did she look like a Spanish Madonna, but her voice was angelic too: gorgeous and of an innocent beauty. Something that made her less suitable for certain roles, such as Violetta. Not that she was bad, but she sounded very chaste.

And yet she was one of the best Manons (Massenet), also not exactly an example of a ‘decent’ woman:

Her interpretation of Carmen is also incredibly good. Not slutty and not too confident, but oh so attractive!

Her voice was not just lyrical, warm and delicate but also very aristocratic, so her Mimi and Cio Cio San were not only fragile and helpless but also got something royal and even Santuzza was enriched with a bit of nobility.

But the Los Angeles was more than just an opera diva. In addition to performing in operas, she frequently performed as a concert singer and was a very gifted song singer. It is said that at the beginning of her career, before performing in an opera, she insisted on giving a song recital first. In this way she could first introduce herself to the public as the real Victoria and not as an opera character.

For Spanish songs she has meant as much as Fischer-Dieskau for German songs or Peter Pears for English. She sang everything which was composed in her native country: starting with the medieval songs and the Sephardic romanceros and ending with zarzuelas and contemporary compositions.

Her repertoire was incredibly large. She sang Italian, Spanish, French and German songs and knew better than anyone how to make her own mark on everything she sang. Her Brahms and Mendelssohn are irresistible, and one cannot help falling in love with her ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ by Grieg.

Her loving, somewhat sweet timbre, her suppleness and her ability to colour words made her particularly suitable for the French repertoire. Her Debussy, her Ravel, her Delibes (just listen to ‘Les filles de Cadiz’!) are truly unrivalled.

Hopefully this album is still for sale.

Victoria de los Angeles
The very best of
Warner Classics 5758882 (2 CDs)

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