Is the music world finally waking up?
Not if it’s up to the big record companies. With them we are still condemned to Bachs, Beethovens and Wagners. Fortunately, smaller labels like Chandos still exist. A while ago they surprised us with a CD with chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim, now they know how to make me overjoyed with Jerzy Fitelberg.
While Ben-Haim’s name was still a little known here and there, Fitelberg’s name was not. At least not Jerzy’s, because there are still enough old recordings of his father Grzegorz, who was a famous conductor.
Jerzy Fitelberg (1903 – 1951) was born in Warsaw and first studied with his father who had him play as a percussionist in the orchestra of the National Theatre in order to gain experience. From 1922 he studied composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin, among others. In 1927 he made a name for himself by re-orchestrating Sullivan’s Mikado for Erik Charell’s operetta-revue in the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1933 he fled first to Paris and from there to New York.
Fitelberg was one of the favourite composers of Copland and Artur Rubinstein, among others. He himself described his compositional style as “full of the energy and high tension of Stravinski combined with the harmonic complexity of Hindemith and the colours of Milhaud’s French music. Plus the much-needed satire”.
Below an arrangement, made by Stefan Frenkel, of a Tango from Fitelberg’s opera ‘Der schlechgefesselte Prometheus’,played by Marleen Asberg (violophone) and Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) at a concert given by the Ebony Band, April 25, 2013 in Amsterdam,
His works were often performed until his death, after which they disappeared from the stage. Until more than sixty years later the ARC Ensemble (yes, the same ensemble that recorded the Ben-Haim CD) picked up the thread.
The first string quartet from 1926 starts with a resolute Presto, which reminds me a lot of Mendelssohn, but not for long. Soon Slavic themes pass by to make way for the melancholic Meno mosso. Beautiful.
The second string quartet , overloaded with prizes in 1928, sounds a bit like Janaček, but with Polish instead of Moravian dances in the background. The sonatine for two violins mixes all the contradictions of the late 1930s: entertainment, jazz and a (cautious) atonality.
Fisches Nachtgesang, a night music for clarinet, cello and celesta is so beautiful that it hurts. It reminds me of a night candle, which goes out carefully. Covered with the soothing words “go to sleep, but don’t worry about it”, but you’re not really reassured.
The members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble, who play contagiously well, all work at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. What a CD! Ten out of ten!
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Serenade; Sonatine; Night musik “Fisches Nachtgesang”.
Chandos CHAN 10877
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
LET BEAUTY AWAKE
In my opinion Thomas Allen is one of the greatest singers of the past half century. His balmy voice with its warmth, colours and nuances makes me happy every time I hear it. It even feels comforting, like a warm bath. The English have the perfect description for this: “meltingly beautiful singing.” Yes, I am a fan!
This all-around baritone, equally at home in opera, art song, oratorio, musical theatre and even movies is held in high esteem all over the world. Except in the Netherlands, where he is barely known. Small wonder: apart from a few rare visits to the Concertgebouw he never sang here. The reason is simple: he was never asked.
Recording Don Pasquale in Munich. Sir Thomas Allen, Renato Bruson, Eva Mei, Frank Lopardo © Wernard Neumeister
I first met Thomas Allen in December 1993 in London, after his recital in St James’s Church where he sang Die Schöne Müllerin. We never really talked until a few weeks later in the BMG Studios in Munich, where he was recording Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
I was allowed to attend the recording sessions. In a small corner I looked and listened, deeply admiring this beautiful singer. He sang the hardest coloratura passages in one long breath, and repeated them endlessly. His hands made elegant gestures. Everything about him, in fact, was acting. What a contrast with the recital in London a few weeks earlier, which had moved me to tears. There he stood motionless on stage, focused, acting only with his eyes.
How can he do that?
“How I can do that … “
“When you are recording the visual element is, of course, absent. The only thing you have is your imagination. When I think about Malatesta, I imagine an elegant man in a beautiful suit. My hands then start to move automatically, which helps me find the colours I need to sound convincing.”
“It works somewhat differently with art songs, I think. I cannot stand singers who move around too much on stage. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Art songs need to be done with a certain discipline, with restraint. I do not permit myself more than eye expressions. Now you have to understand, this is how I feel, it fits my personality, but it will not work for everybody.
You know what my secret is when I sing art songs? It starts in your heart and then it rises to the head …. it is a combination of heart and brain. Somewhere in between – through the throat – it comes out….”
“I learned to sing by looking at my older colleagues. I am like a parrot, I imitate everything. My great example was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In fact, he was more of an idol than an example. In art song, at least. My God, how have I admired that man!”
“Over the times I have come to think a little more nuanced about him. I have more experience now, which has also influenced my thinking. I still admire his Wolf and his Pfitzner. Much more so than his romantic repertoire like Schubert and Schumann.”
“A couple of years ago I first met him, and believe me, I shook in my boots like a complete novice! That man has been an idol and an example to me for years. And not just to me! For the entire generation of singers of thirty, forty and even fifty years ago he was the ideal. So when critics compared me to him I took that as a huge compliment.”
“In opera I never had a similar role model. I learned the profession, as I said, like a parrot. You start with copying a singer, afterwards you learn to interpret a piece of music. My technique kept improving over the years. There has been a time in my life I was seriously hooked on opera. I hardly sang art songs, never gave recitals. I honestly must say that was the saddest period of my life. It was not healthy for me. Fortunately everything ended well.”
“Singing art songs has in fact helped me with operatic acting. It made me more relaxed and my acting quieter. I used to run from one end of the stage to the other, always moving. Singing art songs gave me greater focus on the opera stage.
“Yes, the director is important. How far do I go? Until it becomes ridiculous or clashes with the text. Then I stop. I am not a difficult person, more cooperative, in fact, but I cannot stand people who ignore the libretto simply because of their own ideas. Or because of what they want to see themselves. “
Thomas Allen as Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro
“I will give you an example. A few years ago, in Le Nozze di Figaro, I had to disappear through a trapdoor at the moment I sang ‘Son tutti contenti’. That was ridiculous, so I asked the director why. Almaviva is no Don Giovanni, after all. But he did not know himself. „C’est une idée“, he said. So I refused to do it. A director who cannot explain something is reason enough for me to say no.”
“What really upsets me is they believe singers have nothing to say! And that we are manipulated all the time, either by directors or by conductors. But singers are no idiots. They have learned a lot over the years. They have a lot of experience and are very good at their profession. They can contribute a lot to a production. Directors should listen to singers more often.”
Thomas Allen as Don Giovanni
Over the years Thomas Allen has built up a comprehensive repertoire. He sings Monteverdi, Purcell and Gluck, and contemporary music as well, including world premieres of pieces by Thea Musgrave and John Casken.
He has sung all the great opera roles by Mozart, Strauss, Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. His Billy Budd is legendary.
He still is one of the most beautiful Hamlets (Thomas) and
Evgenij Onegins: both in English and Russian.
Thomas Allen has also appeared in Mrs Henderson Presents and other movies.
In 1993 he published his autobiography ‘Foreign Parts – A Singer’s Journal.’
Allen made his professional debut in 1969 at the Welsh National Opera and in October that year he sang his first big role: Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In 2009 he celebrated his forty years on stage. For the occasion a fan made a compilation of his greatest roles until then.
English translation: Remko Jas
In Dutch: Let Beauty Awake: SIR THOMAS ALLEN
Burkhardt Söll: Kinderdinge. A requiem for an old doctor and his orphans
Korczak with the children
Korczak’s real name was Henryk Goldszmit. He first used his pen name Janusz Korczak in 1898 when he participated in a literary contest organised by Ignacy Paderewski, the famous pianist and future Prime Minister of Poland.
Korczak was born in Warsaw into an assimilated Jewish family. After studying medicine he briefly practiced pediatrics until 1912 when he became director of Dom Sierot, an orphanage for Jewish children. He carried out his utopian vision of a children’s republic there: a community of children, with its own parliament, court and newspaper, all run by the children themselves. After World War I Korczak founded a second orphanage: Nasz Dom (Our House).
As well as being a doctor and director of an orphanage, Korczak was also a pedagogue, teacher, writer and Bible scholar. He worked for the Polish radio and gave lectures. His fame was immense, and not confined to Poland. He was published abroad too, to great critical acclaim, and his pedagogical methods were used all over Europe.
Korczak and children.
In November 1940 the orphanage was forced to relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto. At the beginning of August 1942 the children, together with Korczak and his deputy Stefania Wilczynska, were put on a transport to Treblinka. Even the Nazis respected the famous pedagogue and offered Korczak the opportunity to save his own life. He refused and chose to die with his children instead of compromising his principles. They were all murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka shortly after arriving there on August 7, 1942.
Monument “Janusz Korczak and the children” in Yad Vashem
In 1972 Korczak was posthumously awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Books have been written about him, and his life story has been the subject of several biographical movies. In the 1990s the German-Dutch composer Burkhardt Söll composed a piece in memory of Korczak and his children: Kinderdinge. Manuela du Bois-Reymond, a sociologist and pedagogue who is also married to the composer, wrote the lyrics to the songs.
This stunningly beautiful composition consists of short pieces (children’s scenes) flowing into each other. The first scene Canto d’amore is followed by the sound of clappers (The Only Instruments). There are quotes from Klezmer music and Yiddish songs. We hear train sounds, a grim March of Suitcase, shoes and coats and several songs.
Song I is about fear. Song II about children’s furniture that no longer inspires trust, and Song III about being locked in a dark closet. A closet so small there is only room for one leg. All three songs are filled with immense fear and darkness and death (“bei den Toten ist mein Haus und in der Finsternis is mein Bett gemacht”).
The fourth and final song (The End. What really happened) is based on the eyewitness report by Marek Rudnicki, which was published in the Polish Tygodnik Powszechny in 1988.
Kinderdinge is a concert version of Söll’s earlier piece of musical theatre Ach und Requiem from 1994/1995, which in turn was preceded by Little Requiem composed in 1991.
What interested me was why Söll wrote a piece of musical theatre on Korczak? Where did his interest in the fate of the old doctor and his children come from? Is it at all possible to tell his story in music? These questions were enough reason to visit the composer in Leiden where he has lived since 1977.
Burkhardt Söll was born in Marienberg in 1944. His mother was Jewish. During his first violin lessons, which he took from his aunts, he was allowed to play klezmer music by the one, but not by the other!
Söll studied viola with the famous Rudolf Kolisch. Already in school he composed for the school orchestra. He continued his training at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin where he studied composition with Boris Blacher and Paul Dessau and painting with Horst Antes. Afterwards, he was the assistant of Bruno Maderna and later of Otmar Suitner at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden.
Burhardt Söll self portrait
In the seventies Söll took part in a research project on children’s aesthetics. He developed a teaching strategy combining music composition with painting. In 1985 he was appointed as a teacher at the Utrecht School of the Arts. His paintings were exhibited in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, The Hague, and other places.
Söll has known Janusz Korczak and his books since his early childhood. Krol Macius I (King Matt the First) is still his favourite book. The life of the old doctor has always fascinated him: someone who put his life at the service of (orphan) children and remained faithful to his own ideals until death.
Reinhart Büttner’s designs for black and misshapen children furniture inspired Söll to write his piece of musical theatre. Ach und Requiem was performed only once in 1995, but luckily a recording exists. It is a shame the textbook, with a Jewish child playing the violin on its cover, is almost illegible. The letters are too small, and the colour combination (dark brown and light blue) makes it even harder to read.
Fragments can be listened to here:
*Taken from the Dutch novella by Karlijn Stoffels We hadden vogels kunnen zijn, inspired by a song by Itzhak Katzenelson Dos Kelbl written in the Warsaw Ghetto after the death of his wife and children. The song became a global hit in the sixties under the tile Donna, donna.
English translation: Remko Jas
Original Dutch: “ZIJ HADDEN VOGELS KUNNEN ZIJN” *
Music for Korczak and his children
Djoke Winkler Prins (soprano),
Mary Oliver (viola), Alison McRae (cello), Huub van de Velde (double-bass), Jörgen van Rijen (trombone),Wilbert Grootenboer (percussion), Dil Engelhard (flute), Jan Jansen (clarinet), Henri Bok (saxophone)
Conductor: Peter Stamm
BVHAAST CD 9703
Times have changed. Not that long ago anything in the recording industry seemed possible. The major record companies released one opera after the next. Money was not an issue. Great new stars were introduced, and just as easily dropped. Yet another Aida and Traviata, the hundredth Rigoletto, the two hundredth Tosca or Don Giovanni…..
Smaller labels targeted the niche market of classical music enthusiasts. These collectors were interested in lesser-known works by Donizetti or Bellini, in long forgotten scores and in composers like Meyerbeer, Pacini and Mayr, who enjoyed considerable renown in the past.
One of those labels – fortunately still active today – was Opera Rara. It started out as a small business run by just two men. In their pioneering years their records were issued directly to subscribers. When Opera Rara planned to record an opera, those subscribers had to pay first. After a wait that could take as long as a year, the records were distributed. Highly exclusive! Over the years, Opera Rara became what is probably the largest (and certainly the most important) opera label.
Twenty years ago I visited Opera Rara in London, where I met Patric Schmid* and conductor David Parry. Schmid was one of the founders of Opera Rara and its recording executive. Since the death of his partner Don White he also was the label’s artistic director.
It is raining quite heavily as I step out of Liverpool Street station. I have a few hours to spend and intend to visit a few bookstores. Because I get lost everywhere, it seemed a safer idea to first carefully map out my route. It turns out I am much closer by than I had thought.
Still, when I make my way there fifteen minutes before my appointment I get lost once again. The weather has turned completely, the sun shines and it is hot. Covered in sweat I enter the building on Curtain Road where Opera Rara resides.
I am received by Stephen Revell, the very friendly assistant of Patrick Schmid, who leads me into an enormous room. In the middle a grand piano, covered under a yellow sheet. On the shelves, thousands of scores, books and records.
We sit at a large wooden table. Patric Schmid enters: a handsome man in his fifties, with grey hair. He apologises David Parry has been delayed and will join us later. Coffee and tea are served, and the story behind the most adventurous opera label begins.
Patric Schmid with Nelly Miricioiu © Voix des Arts
The love for belcanto started with Chopin. Schmid, as a young pianist, came under the spell of his enthralling music and went on a search for more. A search that eventually led to belcanto. His fascination with belcanto became so big that he wanted to change the fact that this music was hardly ever performed. To achieve this, he founded an opera company in 1970 with his friend, the musicologist Don White, called Opera Rara.
The search for unknown opera’s was not easy. Schmid himself uses the expression “to dig up.” And since there were no photocopiers at the time, everything had to be produced by hand.
Pirate edition of Il Crociato in Egitto © Hans van Verseveld
In 1972 their first opera was performed: Myerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto. Several problems occurred. Shortly before opening night the tenor cancelled. Where on earth do you find a replacement for a highly obscure work on such short notice? Fortunately William McKinney saved the production by taking over the role two days before the premiere.
All the operas performed by Opera Rara were broadcast by the BBC. Afterwards, these performances were issued by various pirate labels. In 1977 Schmid and White decided to record the operas themselves and founded the record label Opera Rara. The money to make the recordings was collected directly from their supporters on a subscription basis. The first recording was Donizetti’s Ugo Conte di Parigi, made in July 1977. The conductor was Allun Francis, who has been one of their two regular conductors since.
Janet Price sings Bianca’s aria “No, che infelice appieno….” from the Donizetti rarity Ugo Conte di Parigi:
The other host, conductor David Parry, meanwhile has arrived and joins our conversation with much animation. This former pupil of, amongst others, Celibidache, started his career as a rehearsal pianist, something he believes to be absolutely indispensable for a conductor. His conducting career began in 1973 in Wexford. In 1975 he worked as a conductor’s assistant there in the first performance in 93 years of Orazi e Curiazi by Mercadente, an opera he would record twenty years later for Opera Rara.
Nelly Miricioiu sings ‘Di quai soavi palpiti’ from Orazi e Curiazi:
Not only conductors remain faithful to Opera Rara, singers as well. No wonder: they get the opportunity to make recordings, learn new repertory and work in a relaxed atmosphere. The greatest and most famous stars have worked (and still work) on their projects: Nelly Miriciou, Annick Massis, Jennifer Larmore, Joyce El-Khoury, Bruce Ford, Alaister Miles, Michael Spyres, Carmen Giannattassio – just to name a few.
Patric Schmid & David Parry © Basia Jaworski for Basia con fuoco
As a farewell I receive a special gift: the yellow sheet is removed from the grand piano, David Parry picks out a score and plays (and sings, helped by Patric Schmid) an aria from Margherita d’Anjou by Meyerbeer** for me.
*Patric Schmid died suddenly on November 6th, 2005. He was only 61 years old
**Margherita d’Anjou was issued in October 2003. It was one of Meyerbeer’s first operas, still from his Italian period. No complete score of the opera was preserved, so a lot was reconstructed, or “dug up” in the words of Patric Schmid. The excellent cast is headed by Annick Massis, Bruce Ford, Daniela Barcellona and Alastair Miles, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the inspired direction of David Parry (ORC25).
English traslation: Remko Jas
See also interviews (in English):
JENNIFER LARMORE interview (English translation)
Interview with JOYCE EL-KHOURY (English translation)
CARMEN GIANNATTASSIO interview in English
and in German: