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Richard Strauss

Monday, April 24, 2017


Classical iconoclast

April 12

Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 2017

Classical iconoclast Members booking has now started for the Three Choirs Festival, this year inn Worcester, in the heart of "Elgar Country". The first Cathedral concert on Saturday 22nd July will begin with Elgar (Great is the Lord),  and there will be, as always, the Dream of Gerontius (Roderick Williams) but its highlight, conducted by Peter Nardone, should be Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, written in wartime, confronting  violence, in the belief that good can vanquish evil.  Benjamin Britten will be on the programme too (Four Sea Interludes) : not a composer normally connected with the Three Choirs, but included because the Festival reaches out to all.  Fundamentally, the Three Choirs Festival is Christian Communion, though you certainly don't have to be Christian to be welcome,  and this year's themes deal with issues of faith and hope in troubled times. Thus Mendelssohn St Paul on the evening of Sunday 23rd July, where the forces of the magnificent Three Choirs Festival Chorus will be heard in full, magnificent glory, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geraint Bowen.  In the days of the early Church, the faithful were oppressed. But Paul switched from persecutor to convert, remaining firm in his mission, even unto martyrdom.  Bach's influence runs powerfully through this oratorio. There are wonderful chorales, ideally suited to the Chorus, and strong, dramatic parts for the soloists, all built on an austere bedrock that connects to the concept of a radical new faith whose adherents were prepared to die for what they believed in.  Even more rough-hewn and almost savage, Janáček's Glagolitic Mass on Wednesday 26th July. In early Czech tradition, thousands of worshippers would gather together to sing in communal affirmation. Janáček, an atheist,  who played organ in churches, aimed for something quite unorthodox. Thus his use of an old Slavonic dialect, rather than Latin.  His passion for the outdoors inspires the piece. "My cathedral ", he said, was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…...the scent of moist forests my incense”. I've written extensively about the Glagolitic Mass and its composer, please see HERE and HERE.    This evening's concert will also feature Torsten Rasch A Welsh Night and Richard Strauss Metamorphosen.  "An English Farewell" for the final night of the season on 29th July, a superb programme with Gerald Finzi's Die Natalis with Ed Lyon, whom I should really like to hear in this piece as  he's very impressive.  Dies Natalis is transcendental, mystical and ecstatic by turns : utterly unique, and one of the quirkiest masterpieces in English music. Again, it's a piece I've written a lot about over the last 20 years. Please see HERE and HERE for example.  Lots more on Finzi on this site, too.  Dies Natalis addresses the miracle of birth, but Herbert Howells' Hymnus Paradisi addresses the horror that is death, particularly the death of a child.  Heard together, Dies Natalis and Hymnus Paradisi should be quite an experience.  One a star  turn for a soloist, the other a star  turn for choirs.  Please read HERE what I've written about Hymnus Paradisi in the past.  Also on the programme, Raloh Vaughan Williams's Serenande to Music, which will give sixteen singers a chance to shine.  The Philharmionia will be conducted by Peter Nardone. But the Three Choirs festival is much more than  big Cathedral concerts.  Part of its appeal lies in the friendly, community atmosphere, where people come together for smaller-scale concerts, talks, events, excursions and meals. Literally, breaking bread and sharing in the spirit.   Choral Evensong every evening,  organ recitals (including Saint-Saëns Symphony no 3), early and Tudor music, premieres of new work, Shakespeare plays, a visit from the Choir of King's College Cambridge, and this year an unusual afternoon of Tudor Symphonies (with Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick).  .Visit the Three Choirs Festival website for more. 

My Classical Notes

April 22

Gergiev Performs Strauss

Richard Strauss: Don Juan, Op. 20 Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 Performed by the Münchner Philharmoniker, Valery Gergiev conducting. Richard Strauss and Munich share a very special connection. Not only was the composer born in Munich, several of his pieces had their world premiere here. His works have been a substantial part of the Munich Philharmonic’s core repertoire ever since and the orchestra has excelled on many occasions. Valery Gergiev has paid the German repertoire particular attention throughout his career, which ignited a lasting fascination for Richard Strauss. He has made it his specialty. The two pieces on this recording Ein Heldenleben and Don Juan embody the perfect blend of what was of importance in the musical tradition of the 19th century: symphonic composition and program music. Richard Strauss was an expert and a pioneer in the exploration of bringing the two together in his compositions. The two tone poems on this recording pose a challenge the Munich Philharmonic has brilliantly mastered with Maestro Gergiev. Here are Maestro Gergiev and the Munich Philharmonic performing Don Juan by Richard Strauss:






Classical iconoclast

April 7

Walter Braunfels Ulenspiegel on DVD

For the first time on DVD, Walter Braunfels' opera Ulenspiegel is now available. Braunfels's op 23 received its premiere in Stuttgart in November 1913. Two world wars intervened. Braunfels's Ulenspiegel was not performed again until 2011, as part of the Gera Festival.  An audio recording is available of that performance, conducted by Jens Tröster. This new DVD comes from the Linz Festival in 2014, and is conducted by Martin Sieghart, known for his recordings with the Bruckner Orchester Linz. Braunfels' Ulenspiegel is based on Uilenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak, by Charles de Coster (1867), which Braunfels would have known in the German translation published in 1910. Coster was a child when Belgium became independent from the northern Netherlands.  Coster understood the tensions that led to the 1830 revolution. Coster's Ulenspiegel does not follow the Ulenspiegel of medieval tradition, popular throughout northern central Europe. Instead, Coster quite pointedly turns Ulenspiegel into a hero of the Dutch wars of independence from Spain, and pits Ulenspiegel against the Duke of Alba, whose draconian policies of suppression inflamed revolt.  As a French speaker and a Catholic, Coster would have been well aware of the irony. In the 17th century, the Dutch fought off Counter-Reformatioin  Spain.  In 1830,  Dutch Protestants  opposed Belgian (and Catholic) freedom. This background is fundamental to understanding the opera.  Braunfels knew Richard Strauss Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895). Like Coster before him, Braunfels' Ulenspiegel was a completely different personality, clothed in medieval disguise.   The "merry pranks" here have purpose. Even at this early period in Braunfels' career, the underlying rationale behind his music is clear.  All his life, Braunfels  opposed militarism and fascism.  This is vital to the interpretation of his music.  His lush orchestrations are not in the least "romantic" in Hollywood terms. Rather, Braunfels is a Romantic in the true spirit of the revolution which transformed European culture, forging individualism and self-determination. Ulenspiegel escapes prison but there's no happy ending. The Linz production of Braunfels' Ulenspiegel took place in the Tabakfabrik, a disused factory. Hence the post-industrial set. Ulenspiegel and his friends are underclass.  The caravan they live in reminds us that mobility, physical ot social, is denied to the "peasants" of modern society.   There is nothing pretty about situations where the privileged can exploit the gullible with promises of Heaven, bought through Indulgences.  If the performance space is bleak, it fits meaning. Moreover, the Israel Chamber Orchestra are visible at all times, reminding us that opera is theatre, and music is art. The version of the score used here is an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Werner Steinmetz (2014) which makes performance more practical and requires a smaller chorus.  The essentials are retained. If anything, the percussion sounds even more hollow and ominous echoing in the open space of the Tabakfabrik, and the winds sound haunting. Though textures are less rich, they feel hardier - more "Dutch" than "Spanish". Although the EntArte Opera Choir sing well,  the relatively small ensemble doesn't quite give the impact of a vast force in uproar. On the other hand, the focus is greater on individual parts.  Marc Horus sings Ulenspiegel, capturing the prankster's rebellious spirit. When Ulenspiegel's energies are channelled purposefully, he becomes a genuine hero, rather than fool  as hero.  On film, we can also focus on detail. Close-ups are rewarding.  Ulenspiegel's father, Klas, sung by Hans Peter Scheidegger, is vividly characterized, though the role is killed off fairly early in the plot.  Christa Ratzenböck sings a strong Nele, Ulenspiegel's foster sister and lover. This DVD is welcome, but you do also need the  Tröster.CD version from 2011 for the full score. Neither performance is ideal, so I hope the opera gets done again soon, with better resources and an understanding of Braunfels'  idiom, on the level of Lothar Zagrosek's Die Vögel, (1997) so outstanding that all others pale before it. Ulenspiegel is a good opera, but what we really need is a decent recording of Der Traum ein Leben  which was done in Bonn not long ago. the only recording on the market is so badly recorded that it's unlistenable. Please also see a few of my other reviews of the works of Walter Braunfels: Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs vol 1 Hansjörg Albrecht Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2 Hansjörg Albrecht Salzburg Braunfels : Medievalism as modernity (Jeanne d'Arc) Walter Braunfels : Jeanne d'Arc, Szenen aus dem Lebem der Heiligen Johanna Gothic Resistance Fighter : Walter Braunfels Die Verkündigung  Walter Braunfels : Fantastiche Erscheinungen eines Thema von Hector Berlioz Walter Braunfels : Lieder

Richard Strauss
(1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.



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