György Kurtág and his eightieth birthday, sixteen years ago

György Kurtág ,the undoubtedly greatest composer still alive, turned 80 years old in February 2006, which was celebrated all over the world.

A ‘Kurtág 80 Festival’ was even created in Budapest, during which some of his works had their premieres.  

“…Concertante…” for violin, viola and orchestra had been created back in 2003, but in 2006 Kurtág completely revised it.  The composition, dedicated to Hiromi Kikuchi and Ken Hakii and realised in collaboration with these artists was awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award.

It is a wonderfully beautiful work, with many whispering tones and dream images, which gently fades out in a hushed epilogue, almost like a candle. Without a doubt, it is a true masterpiece, and the performance on this CD is so perfect and beautiful that it simply couldn’t be more wonderful. It will bring tears to your eyes.

In “Zwiegespräch”, with its strong Hungarian accents and its discernible influences of Mahler and Webern, the Keller Quartet’s lyrical sound is literally “enhanced” by a synthesiser played by György Kurtág junior.

The second CD ends with a few “Játékoks” (“Games”), played by Kurtág himself together with his wife Márta, but before that, you can dream away at “Hipartita” for violin solo.

Quirel from the Játékoks:

German firm ECM had not forgotten Kurtág’s 80th birthday either.
In February 2006, they released a new recording of ‘Kafka-Fragmente’, arguably his most important work.

The composition was created in the years 1985 – 1986, in close collaboration with the violinist András Keller, a Kurtág promoter pur sang, who advised him in the technical instrumental issues. In 1987, Keller, together with Adrienne Csengery, took care of the premiere at the Festival of Modern Music in Witten.

Adrienne Csengery and András Keller:

Kurtág based his piece on fragments from Kafka’s diaries and letters, which he wove together into an hour-long beautiful and finished entity. Those fragments, forty in total, were spread randomly over four movements. Their order was determined on an exclusively musical basis, the texts were subordinated to the music

Kurtág was always strongly attracted to Kafka. Ever since his childhood, he collected all the texts which he thought could be “composable”. There is also a certain similarity between the two: their Central European Jewish roots, their high degree of self-criticism and their long periods of inactivity.

The small fragments are very different in atmosphere, text and music are symbiotically linked. This performance can hardly be bettered – it is a monumental birthday present.

William Kinderman on Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragmente, for soprano and violin, posted by king permission of William Keinderman



Let’s talk about Mozart’s Idomeneo


Gods! Did they ever mean well with us poor humans? We were provoked and incited by them only to be tormented and punished, with no defence at all. After all: did we really have free will? The divine decree was law and we could not escape the fate predestined for us. All this can be read in the thick book called ‘Mythology’, from which the greatest (stage) writers, poets, painters and composers have liberally drawn.

El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, c. 1904.

Take the Trojan War, for instance. It all started with an apple and a ‘Miss Goddess – contest’ and hundreds of thousands of human beings suffered as a result. The jury was bribed with the promise of love from the most beautiful woman in the world, but this promise failed to add that she was already married and her husband might claim her. If not voluntary then forced.

The war lasted no less than ten years and by the end, just about all the heroes were dead or cursed by the gods who, after all, had caused the whole situation. And don’t think, you can catch your breath now, because after the war we had to deal with the real post-Trojan War traumas (I’m not making it up!) and the gods were also still arguing amongst themselves.

Idomeneo, king of Crete, returns to his country, but things don’t go smoothly. He ends up in a huge sea storm and promises Neptune to sacrifice to him the first creature he encounters on his return. But this happens to be his own son, Idamante! Oops!

Loopholes are sought, but gods are obviously smarter. And then we have a triangle relationship: Elletra (yes, Agememnon’s daughter) has fled to Crete and fallen in love with Idamante. But so has Ilia, the captured daughter of King Priam of Troy. Anyway – if you do not know the full story, just read it.
We will now deal with the various performances of the opera.

Personally, I have never found Idomeneo to be Mozart’s strongest opera and I was never really impressed. But now, after repeated listening and re-listening, I have had to revise my opinion. Because the music, it really is genius after all!

Anton Raaff, de eerste vertolker van de rol van Idomeneo


Sir Charles Mackerras

To get right to the point – I personally think the 2001 recording by Warner Classics (5099994823820) conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras is the very best. It does have one downside (about that later), but that could also be down to my personal taste.

To start with the smaller roles, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (Arbace) has a voice of pure gold. It is a pleasure to listen to him and I can never get enough. One can only wonder: why Arbace and not Idomeneo himself? Yes, I know he recorded the role for Gardiner, but, so what?

Paul Charles Clarke is a fantastic Supreme Priest, chilling yet a real human at the same time. La Voce is very impressively sung by the then very young John Relya.

Barbara Frittoli is a wonderful Elettra. Hurt, and yearning for revenge, yet ultimately resigned to her fate. I would have liked to have heard a bit more drama, but her rendition fits in nicely with the conductor’s vision.

Lisa Milne’s rendition of Ilia is perhaps the finest I have ever heard. Lovely she is, but also loving and very determined. Her soprano is ‘liquid’ – think, warm honey, but with a peppery touch. To that, the warm, tormented mezzo of the lamented Lorraine Hunt Lieberson fits like a glove. Together, they sound as if they were indeed always a unit.

And now for my minus: Ian Bostridge’s Idomeneo. Not yet as vain, narcissistic and mannered, which so marred his recordings and performances in recent years, but he sounds so incredibly ordinary! Not a tormented king, but the next-door neighbour. He singing is clean, but his coloratures are sparse – and this for someone coming from the Baroque tradition!

The score is pretty much complete, not even the ballet at the end is missing. It is usually omitted, and as far as I am concerned absolutely rightly so. It is nothing but an anticlimax and, after listening to it once, I never listened to it again. There is a brief booklet with the track list, but the box also includes a bonus CD with synopsis and the complete libretto.

James Levine

In 1996, Deutsche Grammophon (4477372) recorded the opera conducted by maestro James Levine with just about the Metropolitan Opera’s biggest stars of the time. No idea if it is idiomatic, but I find it HUGE!

Levine’s muscular conducting brings out hidden treasures and in no other performance can you hear how progressive the music really is! The tempi are obviously brisk, but nowhere rushed and most of the voices are overwhelming.

The role of Arbace is curiously taken by a baritone. Well, Thomas Hampson’s timbre is indeed more like that of a tenor and he is more beautiful in the highs than in the lows, but Mozart explicitly asked for a (light!) tenor. But it is not disturbing, quite the contrary. Especially since Hampson manages to fill in the role of the king’s confidant so perfectly.

Frank Loppardo is no match for Clarke with Mackerras, but he holds his own in the small but very heavy part of the Chief Priest.

Bryn Terfel is a very strong La Voce, his sound will automatically make you shiver with fear.

Carol Vaness (Elettra) sounds surprisingly lyrical. Fortunately, she picks up nicely at ‘Oh smania! O furie!”, exactly as we have come to expect from her. Delicious! Yes, she is an Elettra after my own heart!

Heidi Grant Murphy (Ilia) is a bit out of place in the big voice fest. Her pouty timbre reminds me a lot of Kathleen Battle, not really my ‘cup of tea’.

Cecilia Bartoli is a very virtuoso Idamante, very convincing too, though she sounds a bit too feminine at times.

Finally, Plácido Domingo’s Idomeneo is exactly what we expect from him: with his beautiful, warm tenor, his regal recitation and his commitment, he makes Idomeneo a very emotional and mostly very humane king.


Pier Luigi Pizzi

From Teatro San Carlo in Naples comes Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production, recorded in 2004 (Dynamic 33463). The direction is typical Pizzi – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Very realistic, but with a twist and lots of male (semi-)nudity. Lots of ballet too and the colours are mainly black and white with a touch of red. Only Elettra brings in an extra colour. Her purple outfit must – I assume – represent her fury. The setting has a strong cardboard feel to it and there is a lot of lying on the floor, singing.

To be honest, by now I have had enough of it, of nudity and nappies, over the years I have seen more than enough of them. But one thing I have to give Pizzi credit for: his productions are always exciting and his character direction very competent. It also has a very Greek feel to it.

 Jörg Schneider (Arbace) is on the very light side. His voice is definitely beautiful, but I miss the expression. The Chief Priest (Dario Magnabosco) doesn’t really come across, a pity, and about La Voce I’ll keep quiet: he is barely audible. Perhaps he should have been amplified?

Iano Tamar is an outstanding Elettra. She impresses not only with her appearance and acting, but also with her singing. That’s how I like to hear it.

I had more trouble with Angeles Blancas Gulin’s Ilia. Beautiful woman, good actress, but so incredibly Callas-focused. And I found her singing really annoying at times, since it is often not on pitch.

Sonia Ganassi is perhaps the best Idamante ever. Not only is her singing most beautiful, her coloratures are perfect and her timbre warm. For her alone, the DVD is more than worth it.

Kurt Streit was once among my favourite tenors. He is also very much in his prime here. Listen to his undoubtedly impressive ‘Fuor der mar’, even if it doesn’t sound entirely pure:

Dieter Dorn

Anyway, compared to Dieter Dorn’s production, shot in Munich in June 2008 (Medici Arts 2072448), Pizzi can pass for the best director in the world. Dorn starts with slaps, blood and violence. What is this all about? Surely the war ended long ago? But maybe we’re looking back? Or are these Idomeneo’s nightmares?

And where and when is it all taking place: it could be Crete, but we could also have ended up in Africa. Could also be Munich in June 2008. The characters look most like a mixture of hippies and Hells Angels in African costumes, but maybe those are really Martians? Oh well. Why not. Sigh.

The choreography is disturbing, in itself there is nothing against that. The storm is nicely depicted – unfortunately the images don’t make sense. And why are, during Elettra’s first aria, the extras covered in blood? Furthermore, there is a continuous running through the hall – those poor people sitting upstairs and/or to the side. Bet they couldn’t  see anything at all.

Rainer Trost is a pretty much perfect Arbace in terms of voice, but if you want to enjoy his singing, you have to close your eyes and keep it that way. What on earth the director came up with for him… !

Juliane Banse is a beautiful Ilia. Her voice is small and limited, but very beautiful in timbre. Moreover, she is a more than convincing actress.

Annette Dasch (Elettra) is a young attractive singer, who shot up like a comet and has made a huge career within a short time. Don’t ask me why. I find her just plain ordinary. Oh yes, she is good, sure, but that good? In the recording, she sounds distant and not even completely pure.

For Idamante, they surprisingly chose a tenor. Nothing against it, especially if the tenor in question is called Pavol Breslik and possesses a wonderfully lyrical timbre. But you should prepare your ears for a different sound.

John Mark Ainsley is Idomeneo. I could not take my eyes off him. Such an actor! And what a voice! You will surely instantly forget the ridiculous direction. For his performance alone, I wouldn’t want to miss the DVD – you must see and hear it at least once.

Below trailer of the production:

As a bonus, I have for you Sena Jurinac as Ilia in ‘Zeffiretti lusinghieri’. This is the very essence of beauty.

An absolutely perfect recording of Walter Braunfels‘ Verkündigung


Religion, there is nothing wrong with it. Provided that it is well- dosed, it can be a source of a lot of happiness (and salvation). People can draw hope from it and the pure belief in miracles may also cause miracles. Although it is not very tangible.


verkun-claudel                                                Paul Claudel


The French poet and playwright Paul Claudel (1868 – 1955) was a deeply religious man and almost all of his works were inspired by his Catholic faith. The same is true of ‘The message to Mary’, on which the Verkündigung by Braunfels is based


Violaine is engaged to Jacobëus but she rejects him: by her act of charity (out of pity she kissed a man with leprosy) she herself becomes infected. Jakobëus marries Violaine’s sister Mara and, when their child dies after birth, Violaine miraculously brings it back to life. This mystical story full of love, tragedy and sacrifice smells strongly of incense and is not averse to primary sentiments.

Thus also Walter Braunfels’ score: narrative and dark, because even the miracles leave little to hope for. An unadulterated mystery play, with a lot of attention to martyrdom, but larded with the most beautiful notes that seem to have descended straight from heaven.


verkund-braunfels                                                                     Walter Braunfels


Verkündigung was my first introduction to the composer Braunfels. In 1994 the work was released by EMI (now Warner). A publication that has shaken my worldview. Because I didn’t get it: how could such an unadulterated masterpiece remain unknown for so long? Why was it never performed? Since then Braunfels (together with Korngold, Zemlinsky and Schreker) is at the top of my list of my beloved composers.

That EMI recording, including John Bröcheler as Jakobëus, is certainly fantastic, but the new edition by BR Klassiek proves that it can even be bettered!

This performance, directed by Ulf Schirmer, was recorded live in Munich in 2014. Juliane Banse (Violaine) is totally absorbed in her role. She sings softly, swaying and lovingly. Perfect goodness. Janina Baechle is a good Mara and Hanna Schwarz and Robert Holl shine as the parents.

Adrian Eröd is a much better Jakobëus than Bröcheler: his voice is lighter and higher, more loving also, which gives more clarity to his character.


Walter Braunfels
Robert Holl, Hanna Schwarz, Julian Banse, Janina Baechle, Adrian Eröd, Matthias Klink, Mauro Peter e.a.
BR Klassik 900311

Juliane Banse zorgt voor de zowat volmaakte interpretatie van Das Marienleben van Hindemith

Hindemith Marienleben

Paul Hindemith is in juni 1922 begonnen met het componeren van Das Marienleben , een liederencyclus naar de gedichten van Rainer Maria Rilke. Makkelijk ging het niet. In 1923, toen hij er eenmaal mee klaar was verzuchtte hij: “Das war nicht leicht zu machen”.

Hij was dan ook alles behalve tevreden en reviseerde het werk maar liefst drie keer: in 1936/37, 1941/42 en in 1945. De derde versie werd in 1948 gepubliceerd, maar daarmee kwam nog geen einde aan bewerkingen: vier van de liederen heeft hij al in 1939 georkestreerd en in 1959 heeft hij er nog twee aan toegevoegd.

De georkestreerde versie hoor ik persoonlijk het liefst (kent u de opname door Karita Mattila op Finlandia?)

maar er valt ontegenzeggelijk niet te ontkennen dat de allereerste versie, zo moeizaam tot stand gekomen in 1923 de voorkeur verdient. Die is ongepolijst en klinkt alles behalve volmaakt waardoor de teksten van Rilke meer recht wordt gedaan. Denk ik. Het is ook de eerste versie die het vaakst wordt uitgevoerd. Als, überhaupt, want Hindemiths partituur stelt enorm hoge eisen aan de uitvoerenden.

Het is ook de 1923-versie die de sopraan Juliane Banse en de pianist Martin Helmchen in september 2017 voor Alpha classics hebben opgenomen. En het moet het moet gezegd worden: zowel de sopraan als de pianist maken een onvergetelijke indruk op de luisteraar.

Juliane Banse met haar stralende, lyrische sopraan, een enorm tekstbegrip en een zowat volmaakte interpretatie. Martin Helmchen heeft de ‘taal’ van Hindemith in zijn vingers waardoor zelfs de dissonanten hier behoorlijk klassiek klinken.

Das Marienleben op. 27 (versie 1923)
Juliane Banse (sopraan), Martin Helmchen (piano)
Alpha 398

Harnoncourt dirigeert Genoveva van Robert Schumann: dvd versus cd. CD wint.



Al vanaf de première in 1850 werd Genoveva, Schumanns enige opera, als mislukt beschouwd. En daar zit wat in: het is in feite een symfonie met stemmen.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt is echter al decennia lang pleitbezorger van Genoveva. Volgens hem is de opera een waar meesterwerk, misschien zelfs de belangrijkste opera uit de tweede helft van de negentiende eeuw. En ook daar zit wat in, want de muziek is wonderschoon en met een goede regisseur valt er ontegenzeggelijk iets prachtigs van te maken.

Martin Kušej plakt in zijn productie voor het Opernhaus Zurich het verhaal vast aan het personage van Golo, in wie hij Schumann zelf – de componist, de dichter, de revolutionair – ziet en wiens zielsroerselen het ‘echte’ verhaal vormen. De actie speelt zich merendeels af in een soort witte doos, met alle personages permanent op de bühne, alsof ze daar zitten opgesloten.

Best interessant en ongetwijfeld spannend, maar voor mij te ver gezocht en behoorlijk warrig. De liefhebber van het conceptualisme kan echter zijn hart ophalen, want de personenregie is uitstekend en de muzikale kant meer dan voortreffelijk.

Een superieure Shawn Mathey zingt Golo. Zijn mooie en warme tenor straalt inderdaad iets van een dichter uit. Juliane Banse is een ontroerende Genoveva.


Juliane Banse, Shawn Mathey, Martin Gantner, Cornelia Kalish
Orchestra and the Chorus of the Zurich Opera House olv Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Regie: Martin Kušej
Arthaus Musik 101 327




Wilt u een zowat volmaakte Genoveva horen, zonder poespas en zonder concepten?
Ga dan voor de cd opname die Harnoncourt in 1996 voor Warner Classics (0825646912612) maakte, met het Chamber Orchestra of Europe en als solisten Oliver Widmer, Ruth Ziesak, Deon van der Walt, Marjana Lipovsek en Thomas Quasthoff. Beter krijgt u het niet.


Volmaakte Verkündigung van Walter Braunfels


Religie, daar is niets mis mee. Mits goed gedoseerd kan zij ook voor veel geluk (en zaligheid) zorgen. Mensen kunnen er hoop uit putten en het pure geloof in wonderen kan zelf ook wonderen veroorzaken. Al is het niet tastbaar.


Paul Claudel

De Franse dichter en toneelschrijver Paul Claudel (1868 – 1955) was een diepgelovige man en vrijwel al zijn werken werden door zijn katholieke geloof geïnspireerd. Zo ook ‘De boodschap aan Maria’, waar de Verkündigung van Braunfels op is gebaseerd.

Violaine is verloofd met Jakobäus maar wijst hem af: door haar liefdadigheidsdaad (zij heeft een leproze man gekust) is zij zelf besmet geraakt. Jakobäus trouwt met Violaine’s zuster Mara en als hun kind na de geboorte sterft laat Violaine het herleven. Of eigenlijk: opnieuw geboren worden. Het mystieke verhaal vol liefde, tragiek en opoffering ruikt sterk naar wierook en is niet wars van primaire sentimenten.

Zo is het partituur van Walter Braunfels ook. Narratief en donker, want zelfs de wonderen laten weinig hoop achter. Een onvervalst mysteriespel, met veel aandacht voor het martelaarschap, maar dan wel gelardeerd met de mooiste noten die regelrecht uit de hemel lijken te zijn neergedaald.


Walter Braunfels

Verkundigung betekende mijn eerste kennismaking met de componist Braunfels. In 1994 werd het werk door EMI (nu Warner) uitgebracht. Een uitgave die mijn wereldbeeld aan het wankelen heeft gebracht. Want snappen deed ik het niet: hoe kon zo’n onvervalst meesterwerk zo lang onbekend blijven? Waarom werd het nooit uitgevoerd? Sindsdien stond Braunfels (samen met Korngold, Zemlinsky en Schreker) bovenaan mijn lijstje van mijn geliefde componisten.

Die EMI opname, met onder anderen John Bröcheler als Jakobäus was zonder meer fantastisch, maar dat het nóg beter kan bewijst de nieuwe uitgave van BR Klassiek.

De door Ulf Schirmer gedirigeerde uitvoering werd in 2014 in München live opgenomen. Juliane Banse (Violaine) gaat totaal in haar rol op. Zij zingt zacht, wiegend en liefhebbend. Volmaakte goedheid. Janina Baechle is een goede Mara en Hanna Schwarz en Robert Holl schitteren als hun ouders.

Adrian Eröd is een veel betere Jakobäus dan Bröcheler: zijn stem is lichter en hoger, liefdevoller ook, waardoor zijn karakter aan duidelijkheid wint.

Walter Braufels
Robert Holl, Hanna Schwarz, Juliane Banse, Janina Baechle, Adrian Eröd, Matthias Klink, Mauro Peter e.a.
Chor des Bayerischen Rindfunks; Münchner Rundfunkorchester olv Ulf Schirmer
BR Klassik 900311

Voor meer Braunfels zie ook:

WALTER BRAUNFELS. Liederen, deel 1

Meer WALTER BRAUNFELS op Capriccio. En op CPO.


Een beetje (meer) over Walter Braunfels



Karl Amadeus Hartmann en zijn Simplicius Simplicissimus


Karl Amadeus Hartmann

De dertigjarige oorlog heeft aan acht miljoen Duitsers het leven gekost, tweederde van de gehele bevolking. Tweederde …..  Kunt u zich er iets bij voorstellen? Ik niet. En bedenk maar dat u een simpele ziel bent en uw wereld niet verder gaat dan uw ouders, uw dorp, uw kudde schapen en …. de wolf.

De wolf zelf heeft u nog nooit gezien, maar het is u verteld dat hij het ultieme kwaad is. Hij is een charmeur, hij houdt zich schuil boven in de boom, hij moordt, verbrandt de dorpen en verkracht de vrouwen. Hij is alles waar u bang voor bent en waar u geen verklaring voor hebt.

Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1621 – 1676) zou op zijn dertiende gekidnapt zijn door de Kroatische en Hessische huursoldaten. Hij vocht mee in de Dertigjarige Oorlog en zijn ervaringen verwerkte hij in zijn roman Simplicius Simplicissimus. Drei Scenen aus seiner Jugend. Een leuk weetje: hij is ook de auteur van Mutter Courasche (ja, ‘die van Brecht’).


von Grimmelshausen

Het was de beroemde dirigent Hermann Scherchen, die bij de jonge Hartmann met het idee kwam om van het boek een opera te maken. De eerste versie (er bestaan er twee) ontstond tussen 1934 en 36 en de première heeft (uiteraard) pas na de oorlog plaatsgevonden, in 1949.


Hermann Scherchen

In 1956 reviseerde Hartmann het werk. De vele gesproken dialogen werden geschrapt en een paar van de belangrijkste op muziek gezet. In de eerste versie deed Hartmann een aantal verwijzingen naar de actualiteit van toen, die na de oorlog, volgens zijn eigen zeggen, er eigenlijk niet meer toe deden.

De ouverture is wel hetzelfde gebleven, maar er is veel muziek bijgekomen. En die muziek is niet eenvoudig te vatten. Hartmann bedient zich niet alleen van veel stijlen en hij strooit rijkelijk met citaten. Bach is alom vertegenwoordigd, maar je hoort ook jazz, Kurt Weill, Stravinsky (Le Sacre!) en Sjostakovitsj (de muziek bij de ‘Drie dansen met de Dame’ lijkt sprekend op diens seksscène uit Lady Macbeth van Mtsensk). Ook Joodse melodieën ontbreken niet.