Monday, July 25, 2016
The Three Choirs Festival 2016 launched in glory at Gloucester Cathedral with Parry's Jerusalem and Elgar's The Kingdom. The "Holy City and The Heavenly Kingdom", a brilliant pairing which expresses what the Three Choirs Festival represents. For three hundred years, the Three Choirs Festival has stood not only for musical excellence but also for communion, in the deepest sense of the word, bringing people together in the celebration of a glorious ideal. This wasn't the usual Jerusalem in its famous setting by Elgar but Parry's original, believed lost for decades until uncovered by Jeremy Dibble, whose 1992 biography of Parry restored Parry's status and reputation – essential reading. Parry's orchestration isn't as lush as Elgar's, but the original is worth hearing for that very fact: Parry focuses on the questioning and on the irony in Blake's visionary poem. By setting the first verse for a single singer, Parry's setting emphasizes the provocative nature of Blake's conception. "And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green?". In the full choral version, we get so carried away by crowd enthusiasm that we don't question. In Parry's version, however, Blake's irony is made more clear. And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark Satanic Mills?" Bluntly, the answer is "No" So much for simplistic certainties. We may not get the glorious flourishes of Elgar's orchestration, but we do get an insight into Parry. Please read my piece on Jerusalem HERE. In Elgar's The Kingdom, the apostles are about to embark on their journey which still continues 2000 years later. For all the grandeur and vast forces involved, at its heart, the piece is humble though assertive. The apostles are ordinary men serving a higher cause. Saints aren't superhuman beings but human beings inspired to do extraordinary things, inspired by faith and love. Elgar dreamed of writing a trilogy of oratorios examining the nature of Christianity as Jesus taught his followers, using the grand context of the Edwardian taste. In The Apostles, Jesus sets out his beliefs in simple, human terms. Judas doubts him and is confounded. In The Kingdom, the focus is more diffuse. The disciples are many and their story unfolds through a series of tableaux, impressive set pieces, but with less obvious human drama. The final part would have been titled The Last Judgement, when World and Time are destroyed and the faithful of all ages are raised from the dead, joining Jesus in Eternity. The sheer audacity of that vision may have stymied Elgar, much in the way that Sibelius's dreams for his eighth symphony inhibited realization. Fragments of The Last Judgement made their way into drafts for what was to be Elgar's third and final symphony, which we now know in Anthony Payne's performing version. There are familiar themes from The Apostles in The Kingdom, so context helps. But the fact that the trilogy wasn't completed is in itself a refection on the fact the mission isn't complete and won't be until the End of Time, hopefully not in the foreseeable future, though things might not quite seem that way sometimes. Please read HERE about The Apostles at the Three Choirs in Worcester in 2014. The Kingdom unfolds in a dignified procession, a series of tableaux each savoured witha measured pace, the intervals between them providing pauses for contemplation. Interestingly, The Kingdom focuses on female figures. Does this reflect Elgar's Catholicism, and his personal beliefs? The contralto has lovely passages, and the soprano has the glorious "The sun goeth down" and dialogues with the solo violin. At Gloucester Cathedral last night Adrian Partington conducted the combined choruses of the Three Choirs, the Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists Claire Rutter, Sarah Connolly, Ashley Riches, and the youthful Magnus Walker, replacing James Oxley at short notice. I booked my tickets months ago, but unexpectedly couldn't attend. You'd think ticket returns would be as valuable as gold, but I was so fortunate to be able to give mine to very cherished friends, not Elgar aficionados, but good and decent people, who had a wonderful time. For me, sharing the gift of the Three Choirs is almost as good as being there!
Isokoski/Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lintu (Ondine)Erkki Melartin was an important figure in Finnish music history, but he was only 10 years Sibelius’s junior, and until recently his music has been languishing in the shadows. Traumgesicht, the 1910 orchestral tone poem with which this disc begins, is an atmospheric, dreamy score conjuring up night-time visions, with hints of Strauss and, in places, pre-echoes of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. It gets a darkly glowing performance here from the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu – as does the suite Lintu has put together from The Blue Pearl, the first complete ballet by a Finnish composer. Continue reading...
Minnesota Orchestra/Vänskâ (BIS)The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, music director since 2003 of the Minnesota Orchestra, long ago proved himself a formidable interpreter of Nordic music in general and Sibelius in particular. This symphonic cycle – two highly praised discs are already out – is now complete, with this album of the pliant, classical Symphony No 3, the little known and underrated No 6 and the mysterious, enthralling single-movement No 7. The playing is polished and detailed, now springy and buoyant, now occluded and chilling. Tempi are slightly broad but convincingly so. From the plunging energy of the opening of the Third Symphony to the bleak, raw ending of the Seventh, this is a gripping listen. Continue reading...
“The Sibelius Academy has some features that are unique in the world,” says Jasper Parrott, a leading artist agent in London who regularly visits leading conservatories to watch emerging talent. “It offers opportunities to work with an orchestra, its own very competent student orchestra. And thanks to Finland’s abundance of good orchestras, Sibelius Academy conducting students get professional opportunities even before they graduate.”
Oslo PO/Storgårds (Da Capo, two CDs)Per Nørgård has written eight symphonies, just one element in an output of more than 400 works that ranges across nearly every conceivable genre. At the age of almost 84, his productivity shows little sign of slackening off. There may well be more to come, and there is a case to be made that Nørgård is the most distinguished composer writing symphonies today. And while the deepest roots of these works may be anchored in Sibelius and Nørgård’s teacher Vagn Holmboe, like all great originals, Nørgård has consistently taken symphonic form and moulded it to his own expressive and technical purposes. There’s never the sense that his music is retracing its steps or revisiting territory. Continue reading...
For the past few days I have been watching and listening to the artistry of violinist Nikolaj Znajder. I feel that he is a terrific violinist. He was born in Denmark in 1975, and he has recorded many of the major violin concerti. I have assembled a playlist for your enjoyment, which contains the Brahms, Elgar, and Sibelius concerti for violin and orchestra. Mr. Znajder plays with flawless intonation, and his pianissimos are totally delightful. I find him to be a sensitive and dedicated performer. Here is my playlist for your enjoyment:
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