Listening to this CD, I was reminded of La Fontaine’s fable about the ant and the cricket, the moral of which is, ‘whistling in the summer is fun, but when the winter comes you need your savings’. More or less.
Change the ‘savings’ to voice and you have the secret of Piotr Beczala. Starting with the delicate Mozarts and the most lyrical Verdis, he climbed, via poetic Rodolfo and Massenet’s Des Grieux, to what’s generally considered heavier repertoire. First, a careful step towards Lohengrin and Gustavo (Ballo in Maschera), but then the floodgates opened and voilà! Here is a tenor at the beginning of the third important phase in his professional life, that of the lyrico-spinto.
After Mario (Tosca) and Maurizio (Adriana Lecouvreur), it’s now the turn of Radames and Calaf and these roles are no small endeavour. And guess what? He can do it! He approaches these roles less ‘heroically’ than some, since it’s not really necessary. Listen to his illustrious predecessors whose voices most resembled his, with the sob and the tear, Tauber and Kiepura. He approaches his heroes emotionally and does not shy away from sentiment, which doesn’t mean he robs the role of anything.
What I do regret is that he has chosen the most famous arias from the repertoire. But on the other hand, this has given him a chance to compare himself to others in this repertoire and the comparison is in his favor, especially with regard to his contemporaries.
Radames is not on the CD, but Calaf is, which immediately explains the title. His ‘Nessun dorma’ is mainly tender and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana supports him well. There is one downside: ‘Aveto torto … Firenze è come un albero fiorito’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Beczala has long since outgrown this role.
English translation Douglas Nasrawi
Puccini, Cilea, Mascagni, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Verdi
Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Evgenya Khomurtova (mezzo-soprano)
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana conducted by Marco Boemi
Pentatone PTC 5186 733
In the 1920s old values were shaken. The Great War had just ended. Countries had become independent, or had just lost their independency. Powerful new influences like jazz, blues, and exotic folklore appeared. Boundaries between classical and popular music were fading.
Of all the composers from that period, Wilhelm Grosz was perhaps the most versatile. He was born in Vienna in 1894 into a wealthy Jewish family. In 1919 he graduated from the Viennese Music Academy, where he was taught by, amongst others, Franz Schreker. In 1920 he finished his musicological studies at the Vienna University.
Grosz composed songs, operas, operettas, ballet music and chamber music, and was a famous pianist as well. In 1928 he was appointed the artistic director of the Ultraphon record company in Berlin.
In 1929, commissioned by the prestigious Radio Breslau, he composed the song cycle Afrika Songs on lyrics by African-American poets.
Afrika Songs was premiered on 4 February 1930 and enthusiastically received. The cycle also became known as the Jugendstil Spirituals, which probably is the most fitting description for it. There are jazz and blues influences, but the songs were also quite heavily influenced by the music of Zemlinsky, Mahler and … Puccini (compare Tante Sues Geschichten with Ho una casa nell’ Honan from the second act of Turandot!).
When he Nazis came to power, Grosz returned to Vienna. In 1934 he was forced to flee again, this time to London. There his popular works grew more distinct from his serious ones. His name became forever attached to a series of world wide hits. The Isle of Capri, for example, was the big hit of 1934.
ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL
In 1938 Grosz left for Hollywood but didn’t get further then New York. He had a heart attack in 1939 and died, aged only 45. He composed the famous song for Along the Santa Fe Trail, a movie with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan in the leads. The song was not sung in the film and only used only instrumentally as background music.
AFRIKA SONGS AND MORE
After almost sixty years Grosz was rediscovered, although only briefly. It is hard to believe, but the Afrika Songs were not recorded until 1996! The Matrix Ensemble performed them for the firs time at the Proms in 1993. The CD also includes the song cycle Rondels, Bänkel und Balladen and the hits Isle of Capri, When Budapest Was Young and Red Sails in the Sunset, songs we all know but never knew who composed them.
Vera Lynn sings Red Sails in the Sunset in 1935
Mezzo Cynthia Clarey and baritone Jake Gardner are splendid in the Afrika Songs and Andrew Shore makes a party of Bänkel und Balladen. Nothing but praise for the Matrix Ensemble.
English translation: Remko Jas
With many thanks for Brendan Carroll
If it is true that Gideon Klein composed the Divertimento as early as 1940, this is a very important musical discovery. Until now it was assumed that all works that Klein composed before his internment in Terezín have been lost. Unfortunately, the brief-looking booklet with only a short story about the composers and the performers leaves us in limbo. Is the year correct? The (little) work itself is pleasant and easy to hear.
The wind quintet by Pavel Haas dates from 1929. It was very much influenced by Janácek, who has been his teacher and great example since 1920. The second part of the quintet is movingly beautiful. I will not be surprised if the ‘Preghiera’ will lead a life of its own on a compilation CD.
Below ‘La Preghiera’, performed by the Belfiato Quinten:
The biggest discovery for me, however, is the nonet of Rudolf Karel (1880 – 1945). The least known of the ‘Theresienstadt composers’ certainly does not seem to be the least gifted! The work was created when Karel stayed in the hospital barracks of a Prague prison. He wrote his compositions on the smuggled pieces of toilet paper with staves, which were then immediately smuggled out.
Below, Rudolf Karel’s Nonet, performed by Orquesta de Cámara del Auditorio de Zaragoza “Grupo Enigma” – OCAZEnigma:
Gideon Klein (then 24 years old) and Pavel Haas were gassed in Auschwitz. Rudolf Karel died in Theresienstadt. Štepan Lucký is not really part of it. His Divertimento, composed in 1974, is from a different time, in a different style and of a different quality. Why he is included here, is a mystery to me.
The performances are more than exemplary. The pinnacle is Karel’s Nonet, in which the Academia Wind Quintet is strengthened by the members of the famous Panocha Quartet.
You can also listen to Rudolf Karel’s Nonet, plus some compositions by Haas, Klein and Schulhoff on Spotify, in a performance by the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Israel Yinon:
English translation Frans Wentholt
Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Rudolf Karel, Štêpán Lucký
Academia Wind Quintet Prague, Panocha Quartet conducted by Vladimír Válek
Supraphon SU 3339-2131
We can safely call Marcel Worms the ambassador of persecuted and forgotten composers. For his latest CD, he has recorded piano works by composers from various European countries: the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France and Austria. Not only the countries of origin are different, the compositions written between 1922 and 1943 also vary a lot. From jazzy and swinging through romantic, virtuoso and modest to an attempt at serialism.
The composers all have one factor in common: they were Jewish and all but three (Weinberg, Laks and Urbancic) did not survive the war. Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union, Urbancic (who was not actually Jewish but his wife and children were) to Iceland. And Laks was very lucky to survive Auschwitz, as the bandmaster of the camp orchestra.
The CD starts spectacularly with ‘Blues’ by Szymon Laks. It is unknown when this wonderful work was composed. For myself, I think of the early 1930s. Dick Kattenburg’s ‘Novolette’ from 1941 fits in perfectly with this work. As well as the very rhythmic ‘Toccata’ by Paul Hermann.
The ‘Prelude’ by Mischa Hillesum (Etty’s brother) is another story. The composition is strongly anchored in romance: never are Chopin and Rachmaninoff far away; and the two Hommage-pieces (to Sherlock Holmes and to Remmington) by Leo Smit, that you can’t actually ‘store’ anywhere, are simply delightful.
Victor Urbancic is a big unknown to me, it is the first time that I hear from him. That is not very strange: his compositions are completely forgotten and the 1922 ‘Sonatine’ has its recorded premiere here. I don’t really love it, which may be due to my unfamiliarity with his idiom.
What I really do love is the irresistible playing by the pianist. Marcel Worms plays as if his life depended on it. Full of conviction and a real pianistic zest.
Szymon Laks (1901 – 1983), Dick Kattenburg (1919 – 1944), Paul Hermann (1902 – 1944), Mischa Hillesum (1920 – 1943), Nico Richter (1915 – 1945), Erwin Schulhoff (1894 – 1942), Viktor Urbancic ( 1903-1958), Gideon Klein (1919 – 1945), Leo Smit (1900 – 1943), Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996)
Marcel Worms, piano
Zefir Records ZEF 9669
English translation: Frans Wentholt
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.
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?
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.
Katryn Stott (piano)
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Ever since the truly brilliant and now legendary movie Amadeus shattered Mozart’s reputation (or, on the contrary, boosted it), nobody is holy anymore.
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.
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:
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”.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
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.
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)
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!