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Johannes Brahms

Sunday, August 28, 2016


My Classical Notes

August 23

Overtures To Bach

My Classical NotesPerforming artists are continuing to explore new ways to present their music. We have seen works by a contemporary composer joined with compositions from the 1700’s. We have seen works by Schoenberg presented along with music by Brahms. Now there is a new recording called “Overtures to Bach”. These are compositions that anticipate and interlude each of the Bach Cello Suites. 1. Overture 2. Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prélude 3. The Veronica 4. Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: I. Prélude 5. Run 6. Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: I. Prélude 7. La memoria 8. Cello Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major, BWV 1010: I. Prélude 9. Es War 10. Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011: I. Prélude 11. Lili’uokalani 12. Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012: I. Prélude Performed by Matt Haimovitz (cello & cello piccolo) Matt Haimovitz’s continuously-evolving and intense engagement with the Bach Cello Suites reaches new hights with ‘Overtures to Bach’, six new commissions that anticipate and reflect each of the cello suites. The new overtures expand upon the multitude of spiritual, cross-cultural, and vernacular references found in the Bach, building a bridge from the master’s time to our own. The new album, Overtures to Bach, pairs each new work with the Prélude from the suite it introduces, with Haimovitz performing on cello and cello piccolo. Composer Philip Glass simply and eloquently prepares the audience for the first Suite with his Overture, encouraging an open and calm frame of mind. For the second suite, Du Yun creates a heartbreaking quilt of cries in The Veronica, mingling a Russian Orthodox prayer for the dead, Serbian chant, and central European gypsy fiddle music. Vijay Iyer’s Run responds to Bach’s third suite with infectious energy and kinesthetic rhythms that celebrate the natural resonance of the instrument as well as the composer’s jazz roots. Then, Roberto Sierra’s La memoria plays on our memory of Bach’s Suite IV, seamlessly referencing motivic fragments and creating a kaleidoscopic mirage with the exotic flavors of Caribbean bass lines and salsa rhythms. David Sanford’s Es War, a response to the fifth suite, opens with a tour de force of pizzicato, then wrestles with Bach’s epic fugue with a saxophone’s wails. For the sixth and final suite, Luna Pearl Woolf is inspired by pre-Western Hawaiian chant, taking full advantage of the virtuosic properties of the cello piccolo and treating it operatically, from the low bass to the soprano stratosphere. Here is Matt Haimovitz playing the music of Bach:

My Classical Notes

August 26

Grimaud Plays Brahms

While this CD is not new, it represents an amazing set of performances, so it deserves to be heard! Helene Grimaud performs both piano concertos by Brahms. Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, with the Wiener Philharmoniker Performed by Hélène Grimaud (piano), and conducted by Andris Nelsons. This is romantic music-making from one of the world’s most captivating pianists. These are deeply personal interpretations of the dark, passionate sound-worlds of both Brahms piano concertos. A unique, multi-faceted artist who continues to push creative boundaries, Grimaud is one of few pianists to conquer the monumental dimensions of both works. Recorded at Vienna’s legendary Musikverein, the 2nd Piano Concerto marks Grimaud’s debut recording with the celebrated Wiener Philharmoniker; coupled with the equally coveted Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for the 1st Concerto, Grimaud has discovered exemplary musical counterparts. Conductor Andris Nelsons – dubbed “Der Wunderdirigent” by the Süddeutsche Zeitung – is one of today’s most exciting interpreters of Romantic repertoire. BBC Music Magazine wrote: “a superb pianist at the height of her powers […] teamed to a conductor with whom she seems to have instinctive rapport…there’s drama aplenty in the big first movement of the [Second] Concerto. Nelsons secures some delightfully pointed orchestral playing in No. 1’s finale, and really creates the restorative calm of No. 2’s slow movement.” Here is Ms. Grimaud in the music of Brahms:




parterre box

August 22

It happened one knight

My dual goal of posting at least one performance of every opera in today’s standard repertoire as well as the complete operas of several composers gets one step closer this week with Falstaff, Verdi’s totally unexpected, final, great comedic roar. While many performances were available, I chose one from Teatro Colón in 1965 with an amazing ensemble led by Geraint Evans, Raina Kabaivanska, Sesto Bruscantini, Oralia Domínguez, Jeanette Scovotti, and Luigi Alva. Evans was my first Falstaff, making his Met debut in the fifth performance of the now-legendary 1964 Franco Zeffirelli production. In eight seasons, he proved his versatility by alternating performances as Verdi’s fat knight with Mozart’s Figaro, Don Pizarro with Leporello, Captain Balstrode with Beckmesser, and a few Wozzecks thrown in for good measure. He is also the star of George Solti’s magnificent RCA recording of Falstaff, notable for many reasons including then-unknown kids named Mirella Freni and Alfredo Kraus. Kabaivanska, who also sang Alice Ford in the Zeffirelli production, is one of your alte Jungfer’s favorites, and was introduced to my Mixcloud site as Desdemona in a Solti-led Covent Garden Otello with Mario Del Monaco and Tito Gobbi. Bruscantini had a long career, eventually settling comfortably into the basso buffo repertoire, making an overdue Met debut at the age of 61 in L’italiana in Algeri in 1981. His other Met appearances included Dr. Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Dulcamara, which he sang in a telecast performance of L’elisir d’amore with Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle. Domínguez became – and remains – a sensation with her show-stealing, smoldering Amneris in the infamous 1951 Mexico City Aida with Maria Meneghini Callas and Del Monaco. A little known – and totally amazing – fact is that she was just 25 when she gave that legendary performance, and had made her operatic debut only one year before. An incredibly versatile artist, she was as comfortable in all the great Verdi mezzo roles including the Requiem (check out the 1954 EMI recording led by Victor de Sabata with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) as she was in Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Rossini, Brahms, Mahler, Stravinsky, and, rather surprisingly, was Herbert von Karajan’s Erda in his Osterfestspiele Salzburg Ring Cycle and the subsequent DG recordings. Another surprise was her Covent Garden debut in 1955 as Madame Sosostris in the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, learned by rote (she spoke no English), alongside the 28-year-old Joan Sutherland. Performing until 1982, she died in Milano less than three years ago at age 88. Our Nannetta and Fenton, who also appeared together in the Zeffirelli production, are still with us. Scovotti, Zerbinetta in my Mixcloud upload of a 1967 Wiener Staatsoper Ariadne auf Naxos, sang over 80 Met performances covering the coloratura/soubrette repertoire. Alva, who sang over 100 Met performances in a decade, was as close to a true tenore di grazia as was to be heard in the 1960s and 1970s (post-Cesare Valletti), specializing in lighter repertoire which prolonged his career into his mid-60s. Maestro Fernando Previtali, a pupil of Franco Alfano and Vittorio Gui, was known as a Verdi specialist and led a cycle of the composer’s operas in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. Among his many recordings is the beloved RCA La traviata with Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, and Robert Merrill. While he held various positions in his native Italy, he was music director of the Teatro Colón in the 1960s, and later at the Teatro Regio in Torino and the Teatro Comunale in Genova. At the risk of being jumped on, I’d like to posit one of my rhetorical questions: has any other opera composer concluded a lengthy career with such a quicksilver masterpiece, so full of light and joy? Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires Fernando Previtali, conductor Sir John Falstaff – Geraint Evans Alice Ford – Raina Kabaivanska Ford – Sesto Bruscantini Dame Quickly – Oralia Domínguez Nannetta – Jeanette Scovotti Fenton – Luigi Alva Meg Page – Carmen Burelio Dottore Cajus – Italo Pasini Bardolfo – Nino Falzetti Pistola – Andres Huc-Santana



Tribuna musical

August 22

Vengerov and Saitkoulov: from correction to brilliance

Maxim Vengerov, born 1974, was a child prodigy who won great competitions at an early age: the Wieniawski at ten and the Carl Flesch at fifteen. He went on to have a great career and be recognised as one of the leading violinists of our times, fortunately prodigal in this specialty. Nowadays he is also a conductor and teacher, and has his own Festival. An interesting point: during the recent decade he took a three-year sabbatical from playing; during that time he studied conducting . He came to Buenos Aires several times, the last playing a Chinese concerto with the Shanghai Symphony; although his playing was admirable, the work was subpar and hardly up to his capacities. But late in 2011 he gave a splendid recital of sustained quality, blending ideally intellectual comprehension with virtuoso realisation. Unfortunately I don´t keep archives and can´t vouchsafe if his pianist was Roustem Saitkoulov, but he is Vengerov´s habitual partner, it might have been him. Hand programme biographies should provide information about earlier visits to BA, but they are always mere translations of a standard international biography. I remember that years ago the Mozarteum made it a point of mentioning previous contacts with the artists; I wish they did that again in the future. Saitkoulov is a distinguished pianist in his own right; also,H he does a lot of chamber work. Born at Kazan, Russia, he studied with the great Elisso Virsaladze at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (she came twice here) and then completed his training in Munich. He won important competitions: the Ferruccio Busoni (Bolzano), Géza Anda (Zürich), Marguerite Long (Paris). He has played with important orchestras and given recitals throughout the world. By the way, he accepts the French version of his name and surname; for us or for Great Britain and USA, it should be Rustem Saitkulov (we write Mussorgsky, not Moussorgsky). So there were good reasons to expect from this Mozarteum concert (repeated with the same programme) a very high level. Technically it was of course impeccable, but the interpretations began coldly, more so in the case of Vengerov. The sonatas chosen were enticing: Schubert´s Sonata in A, D.574, pompously called "Grand Duet"; and Beethoven´s marvelous Sonata Nº 7, in C minor, Op.30 Nº2. Schubert´s sonata was written young, at 20, but his personality is clear from the very beginning, a delicious Allegro moderato. Who else wrote such melodies or was so subtle in the harmonic modulations? He also wrote three other sonatas, a bit less inspired and developed, called Sonatinas by the editor. All of them were published posthumously, the same sad destiny of his symphonies 8 and 9. I fell in love with the sonata in my youth with the wonderful recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninov, for it has charm and beauty: Kreisler sings with captivating timbre, and the great Russian virtuoso adapts to the intimate style perfectly.Too much sliding from Kreisler? Agreed, but he is irresistible. And that´s contrary to what I felt from Vengerov: an academic, correct reading with no involvement. During the interval, a veteran friend said: "it´s as if he were afraid of producing any sound that isn´t round and smooth". Yes, all exact but with little energy and attack. Saitkoulov was better; however, the final result was placid in the wrong sense. As Claudia Guzmán rightly says in her comments referring to Beethoven´s Seventh Sonata: "never until then a work for piano and violin had displayed such dramatic intensity nor had required similar temporal proportions". It is a C minor masterpiece in the same rank as the "Pathetic" Piano Sonata and the Third Piano Concerto. No namby-pamby approach can deal with such a score. Things went gradually better, fired by the greater intensity and virtuoso playing of Soutkulov, but only got to the desirable grade of electricity from both in the last movement. Said my friend: "there I found Beethoven". But things changed, and the whole Second Part, as well as the four encores, went swimmingly. Both showed complete identification with that peculiar Ravel Second Sonata: he believed that piano and violin are incompatible and the music echoes that idea: the players oppose each other instead of being complemental. And you know, it works! The Blues is the best movement and it was played with ideal sinuosity. And then came a final virtuoso section starting with a violin solo piece: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst´s Variations on "The Last Rose of Summer", Nº 6 of the Polyphonic Etudes for solo violin. The piece on the lovely Irish tune is the devil to play and rarely done; Vengerov at twelve presented it at the Tchaikovsky International Competition. Here he showed the complete range of his fantastic technique. A quiet and reflexive Paganini, the Cantabile Op.17, originally for violin and guitar, was done in a transcription for violin and piano. The final score was the Kreisler arrangement for violin and piano of Paganini´s "I palpiti" for violin and orchestra, Introduction and Variations on a theme from Rossini´s "Tancredi" (the aria "Di tanti palpiti"), a true catalogue of Paganini´s technical innovations, splendidly played. Four encores: two of those inimitable Kreisler pieces that Beecham would have called "lollipops": the famous "Viennese Caprice" and the dynamic "Chinese tambourine". Rachmaninov´s beautiful Vocalise, transcribed from the original for orchestra. And Brahms´ ever so popular Hungarian Dance Nº5, in the Joachim arrangement. All done with panache by the artists. For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

August 22

Barenboim/Kaufmann, an anticlimax closing the Festival

This is a sad review, for after calling the preceding concert (Barenboim/Argerich/WEDO) the event of the year, readers may expect a rather enthusiastic response to the last session of the Festival. But I went to the Colón in morose mood, for three facts were inexorable: the programme was too short; it presented the famous tenor in baritone repertoire; and it´s simply and irrevocably unethical to repeat a major score in the same subscription series. What drove me mad was the fact that the season programme, distributed in March, says: "we will present the dashing debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who will delight our public with the music of Richard Wagner, avid to know one the maximal lyric expressions of our time". And this is what we got: the Prelude to the Third Act of Wagner´s "The Mastersingers"; Gustav Mahler´s "Songs of a Wayfarer"; and Mozart´s Symphony Nº41, "Jupiter". I can accept the first item (it was the encore of Concert Nº5; the encore, not one of the announced fragments). But baritone Mahler? And the repetition of Mozart´s "Jupiter" (played in the initial concert along with Nos. 39 and 40)? Sorry, there´s a limit to arbitrariness, even coming from world figures like Kaufmann and Barenboim. About Mahler: was it the tenor´s wish? Or did he propose something else and Barenboim vetoed it? I don´t know, but I give you a piece of news: Kaufmann will sing in Santiago de Chile a programme of operatic arias from Italian and French composers: "Tosca", "Aida", "Carmen", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Le Cid", "Andrea Chenier" and "Turandot". Mouth-watering indeed, although it has no Wagner. Two ways to have done a decent programme: a) change the Wagner symphonic pieces in the concert with Argerich with, say, Brahms´ Fourth Symphony, and play the same symphonic fragments around Kaufmann, singing arias from "Lohengrin", "Die Walküre" and "The Mastersingers" (he has just sung the complete "Mastersingers" in Munich). b) Do the same programme as in Santiago, adding symphonic opera music to round it off. I have perused the CD R.E.R. catalogue of 2000 in the entry: Mahler: "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a wayfarer"). The character of the songs is clearly manly, but several ladies of great career haven´t resisted the temptation and have recorded the lovely music. But not one tenor risked recording it and for good reason: hear the young Fischer-Dieskau with Furtwängler and then recollect what you heard at the Colón with Kaufmann, and what a falling off! Is it an experiment and he decided to try it here? For I read that he has an even stranger idea: to sing both the tenor and the baritone parts in Mahler´s masterpiece "Das Lied von der Erde" (Song of the Earth"); and that lasts an hour! The voice sounded veiled and out of register, but the man is an artist and of course he phrased with expression and taste, splendidly accompanied by Barenboim and his WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). Then came the very partial saving grace, after just 18 minutes of singing: the lovely "Winsterstürme", Siegmund´s aria from "Die Walküre". There his real voice appeared. And then, helpers moved the piano and Barenboim accompanied him in the Tristanesque "Träume", last of the Five Wesendonk Lieder: beautifully done, though he was poaching in soprano repertoire. At least in this case Kaufmann has two antecedents: Melchior and Kollo, but both with orchestrations not done by Wagner. Readers may remember that two years ago I wrote enthusiastically about his Alvaro ("La Forza del Destino") in Munich: even in a horrid staging there was no doubt about his exalted category. So he owes us a second visit singing opera and has shown bad judgment in his debut. I do hold great hopes for his forthcoming Lieder recital. It transpired that both Argerich and Barenboim were affected by the flu, markedly so when they repeated the fifth programme, in which there were no encores; and that Barenboim wasn´t cured on the concert with Kaufmann. There was no encore after the "Jupiter", to my mind played with less rhythmic bite than on the first concert (of course everyone was fresher then). I do hope that next year Barenboim will be more careful and ethical: he owes it not just to the public, but to himself. This is a very expensive series, and two concerts in it were clearly below par; a third one is a controversial decision, that of Arabic music. Let´s have a real Festival where everything is topnotch. A personal desire: he has expressed his enthusiasm with Elgar: wouldn´t it be a great contribution to bring the powerful Second Symphony? For Buenos Aires Herald

Johannes Brahms
(1833 – 1897)

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he also worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.



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