Saturday, December 3, 2016
The CD of the Month for December, 2016 is actually not only music by Schubert, but also the quartet ‘Voces Intimae’ by Jean Sibelius. Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ Sibelius: String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 ‘Voces Intimae’ Performed by the Ehnes Quartet Death was heavily on the minds of both Schubert and Sibelius when they were composing the two string quartets on this new CD from the Ehnes Quartet. Sibelius had undergone several operations to remove a tumour in his throat. The bleak and highly personal 4th Symphony is the masterwork from this period, but the string quartet ‘Intimate Voices’ of 1908 should not be underestimated. This work has an almost Haydnesque construction, and the quartet’s first movement’s sheer perfection of form approaches that of the 3rd Symphony’s opening movement. Franz Schubert wrote to a friend in 1824: “I am the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world…whose health will never be right again”. With his emotions veering from happy memories of earlier years to shuddering terror at the prospect of death, he composed two string quartets and the Octet over a two- month period. The Schubert D minor quartet makes ingenious use of his earlier song ‘Death and the Maiden’ from 1817 in the slow movement’s variations. ‘Give me your hand, you fair and gentle creature; I am a friend and do not come to punish’ sings Death soothingly. The music captures Schubert’s fearful state of mind in a remarkable piece of music that has been a favorite for so many years. Here is the sad slow movement from Schubert’s quartet:
Of course, it was only a matter of time before Chinese orchestras started arriving to our city, although they existed even during Mao tse Tung´s regime: I certify that Beijing had an orchestra in 1962 that played such Occidental authors like Sibelius, along with Chinese composers. But the ironically called Cultural Revolution wiped them out for a long period. However, the almost miraculous reversal engineered by Deng Hsiao Ping gradually opened the immense country; musically this is recounted in that indispensable film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart". Orchestras re-formed and others were created; and in 1999 Hong Kong became part of China, including its notable Philharmonic that has left so many fine recordings (they would be welcome visitors to BA). Changes take time, and it was only last year that a Shanghai Orchestra came here (a promised Beijing one didn´t materialize). And now we had the visit of the Qingdao Symphony. How many Argentines know something about this city? I didn´t, and I went to Google, for the programme gave me no information, except biographies of the interpreters and the listing of the players. They gave two concerts at the CCK¨s Blue Whale, the first combining China with the Occident, the second almost purely Chinese; I attended the first, missing two initial pieces due to a traffic jam (sounds familiar?). It turns out that Qingdao is a big port in the Province of Shandong with a population of around 6 million; German colony from 1891 to 1904, twice invaded by Japan and recuperated in 1949; it now has five universities. The Orchestra was re-established in 2005; its current Director is Zhang Guoyong (Herald readers may recall my review of his debut concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic this year, praising him in a difficult programme of Zimmermann and Prokofiev). Eighty players came in this tour, all with purely Chinese surnames. This people is gregarious and disciplined; on the evidence of this concert, the players have been carefully selected and are fully professional, and thoroughly trained by such a proficient conductor they gave first-rate performances of all the programmed pieces. As I wrote concerning other Chinese composers´ works played in BA (not many) I believe that the Occidental orchestra isn´t the right instrument for what remains a profoundly different culture. You do hear some pleasant pentatonic tunes but the orchestrations are showy and bombastic and the structures are haphazard. The pieces I heard both concerned concubines as they are depicted in Beijing Opera, as far from the European conception of the genre as possible in voice and instrumentation: voices are supposed to be used with extreme nasality and artifice, and there are very few players. The long symphonic fantasy "Goodbye, my concubine", by Guan Xia, suddenly includes a song; and then we heard a symphonic arrangement of a melody from Beijing Opera´s "The inebriated concubine". Zhang Ying, attired in colorful traditional clothes, sang both, in a way that decidedly for Occidentals is an acquired taste (if you do acquire it). But it is a matter of training: soprano Song Yuanming studied at Vienna and sang our opera and operetta with an agreeable voice of clean highs: the Waltz from Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" and the Csardas from Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus"; when she finished the First Part with a Chinese melody, "I love you, China", by Zheng Quiufeng and Qu Zong, she sang like an European. The Second Part was occupied by the most famous cantata of the Twentieth Century, Carl Orff´s "Carmina Burana", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional led by Darío Marchese, soprano Song Wuanming, baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and countertenor Pehuén Díaz Bruno. The rhythmic vitality and melodic charm of this celebration of Medieval love and wine dressed in modern clothes has seldom sounded so full and precise. The Choir was in fine shape, potent, in tune and exact; the Orchestra responded brilliantly to Guoyong´s commanding baton; and the soloists were well chosen, from the firmness of Wuanming´s highest register to the intelligent interpretation of Meerapfel and the adequacy of the countertenor singing the strange predicament of the roasting goose. How would this orchestra and conductor fare in, say, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, is anyone´s guess, for all I heard from them was lavishly colorful; anyway, they certainly have the right technical tools. The style? Maybe. For Buenos Aires Herald
Batiashvili/Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim (Deutsche Grammophon)Naming the soloist on the last concerto recording you heard is probably easy. But can you name the orchestra? On this disc, there’s no danger of forgetting that it’s Daniel Barenboim’s Berlin Staatskapelle; the quality of the orchestral playing, the warmth and depth of tone are constant reminders. They offer worthy support to outstanding, insightful performances from violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who, like Barenboim, here commits the Tchaikovsky concerto to disc for the first time. She’s a dreamy-sounding, inward soloist at the start, shaping the melodies with care yet propelling them forward – this mammoth work has rarely seemed so concise. The Sibelius soars and sings in the first movement, and dances in the finale with a rare agility. As for Barenboim, he gives the orchestral parts the depth and scope of symphonies: the climax of the first movement of the Sibelius will knock you flat. Continue reading...
Ehnes Quartet (Onyx)From the opening chord, firm, precise, pliant, this quartet knows its collective mind when it comes to Schubert’s much loved “Death and the Maiden”, D810. James Ehnes leads with that brilliance of technique and musical intelligence always evident in his solo career. He has fine, equally meticulous colleagues in Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin), Richard Yongjae O’Neill (viola) and Robert deMaine (cello). They avoid exaggerating the Viennese lilt, keeping all light, muscular and buoyant. The novelty is Sibelius’s only published quartet, the five-movement “Intimate Voices” in D minor, Op 56. It’s rarely played yet sheds light on other work from that time, namely the mysterious Fourth Symphony: an intriguing discovery. Continue reading...
When I was studying violin, I would listen for hours to the late David Oistrakh. His sound was awesome! Warm, dark, resonant, brilliant. It is worthwhile to remember some of these artists who have now left us. Here is a recording that is a terrific vehicle for bringing back these memories: Tchaikovsky and Sibelius: Violin Concertos Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 Performed by David Oistrakh (violin), with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. “Soloist, orchestra and conductor make it all sound so natural. Oistrakh’s big-boned style finds its match in the Philadelphia string sound, well recorded for its time.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2011 Here is David Oistrakh, performing the Sibelius concerto:
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra pays tribute to the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, while the Hallé brings Handel’s glorious oratorio to ManchesterOne of the year’s greatest musical losses was the death, in March, of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra pays tribute to the composer who made his home and creative base in the Orkney Islands with a programme that features one of his best-loved compositions – An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise – as well as his second Strathclyde concerto. The soloist is William Conway, who premiered the work with the composer in 1989; rising star Alexandre Bloch conducts a programme that also includes Sibelius and Bartók. 1 December, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. 2 December, City Hall, Glasgow, sco.org.uk Continue reading...
Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 - 20 September 1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. His mastery of the orchestra has been described as "prodigious". The core of Sibelius's oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies. Like Beethoven, Sibelius used each successive work to further develop his own personal compositional style. His works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and are often recorded. In addition to the symphonies, Sibelius's best-known compositions include Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto in D minor and The Swan of Tuonela (one of the four movements of the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala; over 100 songs for voice and piano; incidental music for 13 plays; the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower); chamber music; piano music; Masonic ritual music; and 21 separate publications of choral music. Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. However, after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music to The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he produced no large scale works for the remaining thirty years of his life.
Great composers of classical music