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Richard Strauss

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

September 5

Solti: The last interview (don’t mention the ladies)

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe last interview given by Sir George Solti before his death, twenty years ago today , was given to the present author at the end of July 1997, in his home on Elsworthy Road, Hampstead, a conductor’s street that once housed Edward Elgar and Henry Wood. Here is the full copyrighted text: SOLTI seemed so relaxed, so beamingly content, that I was almost tempted to believe the old typhoon had eased up. He had, just that morning, packed off to his publisher the third and final draft of an unexpectedly revealing autobiography, and was about to throw an engagement party for his elder daughter, Gabrielle, a London primary school teacher. Solti adored his two daughters, kept their mobile phone numbers taped to his desk so he could reach them at all times. Holding them as newborn babies, he confided, was the closest he ever came to a religious experience. The beam broadened, the serenity turned surreal. Shuffling about his St John’s Wood studio in a woolly cardy and a rollneck and sensitive to English draughts even in midsummer, Solti at 84 could be mistaken for an ousted potentate embracing benign patriarchy. Yet one glance at his piano lid gave the lie to any illusion of repose. The surface was littered with orchestral scores in states of disrepair. Solti did not read music, he tore in and ripped it apart – jabbing, snatching, scribbling, scrabbling for meaning and mastery. His favourite operas shuttled back and forth to the binders. He had been known to stab himself with a baton while conducting. “Nussing,” he sighed in his quaintly Magyarised English, “comes easy to me.” Nothing? I wondered “Almost nussing,” conceded Solti. His memoirs suggest he had no difficulty at all where women were concerned. Many willingly testified to his magnetism, going all hot and cold when he entered a room. He shot me a quizzical look, flirting disclosure. In the public eye, Solti played to perfection the part of Great Conductor – tyrannical and inspirational by turns; bristling with energy, yet preserving emotional aloofness. His very posture repelled intruders. He had been known to throw out an interviewer on the second question. His inner life was protected by a fireproof mask. All of which usefully fuelled a maestro mystique that, with the deaths of Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein at the turn of the Nineties, earned him an awesome solitude. “Solti,” said a senior record producer, “is the last of the giants. When he gives up, we can all go home.” “You know the nicest thing about Georg?” a woman friend had said. “He cannot believe the success he has achieved.” “That’s quite true,” agreed Solti, “although I know how hard I worked for it. Harder than anybody.” He started out in Budapest, the son of an unsuccessful businessman and a strong-willed mother who made sure there was enough money for piano lessons when little György – he became Georg on the German opera circuit – turned out to have perfect pitch. He gave his first piano recital at 12 and was quickly admitted to the Franz Liszt Academy, supplementing the syllabus with six weeks of private lessons from Bela Bartók. At the premiere of his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Solti turned pages for the great composer. Had he stuck with the piano, he could have made a decent career. But Solti was determined to conduct, an unattainable dream in Admiral Horthy’s crypto-fascist Hungary. “It was out of the question that a Jew, which I am, should get any sort of state job – and all the orchestras and opera companies were owned by the state,” was Solti’s blunt recollection. Retracing his steps for autobiographical research, Solti had a whole village turn out to welcome him to his father’s birthplace, planting a tree in his honour and aggravating a deep-seated ambivalence. “It was a strange, moving occasion,” he said. “It brought me back to my Hungarian origins – because I strictly refused to have anything to do with them for years. I was chucked out twice, and that was enough.” In October 1932, aged 20, Solti went to Germany to work as an assistant to the conductor Josef Krips in Karlsruhe. Hardly had he found lodgings than a Nazi violinist tipped off the Volkische Beobachter, which launched a poisonous attack on Krips for engaging an “eastern Jew”. Back in Budapest, he scratched around for piano dates and worked as a repetiteur, rehearsing singers at the Opera. The conductor, Joseph Rosenstock, said he had never seen anyone “so talented, or so shy”. Finally, in 1937, he took a letter of introduction to the president of the Salzburg Festival, Baron Puthon, craving permission to observe at rehearsals. As luck would have it, he arrived during a flu epidemic. “Do you know The Magic Flute?” said the Baron. That afternoon, he was playing the rehearsal piano for the cast when Arturo Toscanini, the most fearsome conductor of all time, entered the room. “My heart stopped. I froze. With one finger, he gave me a tiny beat. I followed. After a while he said one word: ‘Bene.’ ” I heard Solti recount this story on his return to Salzburg 52 years later, breaking off a family holiday in Italy to stand in for the dead Karajan, a power-playing ex-Nazi who had placed every possible obstacle in his path. Remarkably, there was neither triumphalism nor bitterness in Solti’s voice, only a sense of wonderment. He next saw Toscanini in Switzerland in the summer of 1939, hoping to accompany him to America. Unable to get a visa, Solti received a cable from his mother telling him to stay put. Hitler had invaded Poland and Hungary was unsafe. During the war, his father died of natural causes; other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. Trapped in a neutral state, without friends or a work permit, he was taken in by a tenor, Max Hirzel, in exchange for being taught the role of Tristan. In 1942, fearing repatriation, Solti chanced his hand at an international piano competition. “You know how hard it was for me?” he demanded. “I have no visual memory. Unlike Karajan and others who can turn a page and fix it in their minds, I have to learn bar by bar, and tone by tone. “I had what pianists call a finger memory, but, in the excitement of the Geneva competition, I lost it. We were four finalists and I was playing last. I arrived half an hour early and sat at the piano to warm up. I played the fugue from the middle of Beethoven’s opus 110 sonata, a very simple motif, and suddenly I didn’t know where to go. So – panic, sheer terrible panic. “I went out, wanted to go to the office to say I’m not playing, I’m sick. But nobody was there. I came down just as the other pianist finished. The usher said, ‘It’s your turn – go.’ I have no idea how the hell I got through it. I won first prize, but it was terrible. I was a wreck. Since then, I have learned music note by note.” The prize earned him enough money to live on for five months and official permission to teach five pupils “not one more”. Swiss neighbours reported him to the police for practising too loudly – “Why couldn’t they ask me first to be quiet?” he wondered. When the war ended, Solti was 32 and no nearer to his podium ambition. He got in touch with a Hungarian exile, Edward Kilenyi, who was in charge of music in the US occupation zone of Germany, and offered to head the opera in Munich. Rejected on sight, he went to Stuttgart and conducted Beethoven’s Fidelio, signing a contract as music director virtually the next morning. However, hearing that Munich was having second thoughts, he slipped out of town and went for the main chance, abrogating his contract and earning the enmity of the Stuttgart mayor, a future president of the Federal Republic. Most maestros cover up such moral lapses in their august memoirs, but Solti did not mind exposing the indecency of his haste. Having only ever conducted two operas – Figaro in Budapest and the Stuttgart Fidelio – he found himself in charge of a company hallowed by the two Richards, Wagner and Strauss. “It was not for several years that Munich began to discover I was conducting everything for the first time,” he said. He spent six years in Munich – “they chucked me out; the minister wanted a German, non-Jewish conductor” – and nine in Frankfurt, where the administrator eventually said to him: “Solti, you must go now; you are too good for us.” He was almost 50 before he hit the world stage, flying out to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – only to fly straight back after a challenge to his artistic authority. He arrived in London in 1961 as music director at Covent Garden. The rest is unalloyed glory. Over the next decade, he raised the Royal Opera House to rank with the world leaders – Vienna, La Scala, Paris and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Under Solti, London saw big stars and epochal productions – the Callas-Gobbi Tosca, the first Moses und Aron, the most memorable of Arabellas. He taught Britain how to run a top-flight opera house and helped British-trained singers break into Europe. Dames Gwyneth Jones, Margaret Price and Kiri te Kanawa are all shoots from the Solti nursery. In 1969, he took up the baton at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and held sway for a quarter of a century, burnishing a big-band sound that raised a brash ensemble from the Midwest into world contention with Karajan’s all-conquering Berliners. The Chicago-Solti combination sold five million records. In all, Solti made about 300 recordings, including the major symphonic cycles and the first recorded Ring. No living maestro comes close. In America, where titles matter, he was pronounced the World’s Best Conductor. Yet, perhaps due to the frustrations of his delayed start, Solti pushed for more. His podium style, always ungainly, was likened by one US critic to shadow-boxing. In quieter passages, where other conductors put on a dreamy look, he fidgeted and fretted. “Why do you conduct all the time with both hands?” Richard Strauss once asked him. Some of his performances seemed driven to the point of pain. In rehearsal, his rages were apocalyptic. At Covent Garden, they called him “the Screaming Skull”; in Chicago, he was accused of replacing strong-willed players with sycophants. Musicians in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which he directed from 1979 to 1983, referred to him in a volume of interviews as “poison”, “greedy” and – this from the LPO’s vice-chairman, Nicholas Busch – “the worst conductor ever”. The oldest member of the orchestra looked forward to dancing on his grave. Not one player in the whole book had a good word for him – yet Solti stepped in time and again to save the orchestra’s season when a music director fell sick or a management disintegrated. Everywhere he conducted there are musicians he helped in distress – with a quiet chat, a glowing reference or a personal cheque. He was an absolute pushover for hard-luck cases and refugee causes. When the Chinese opened fire at Tiananmen Square, Solti called off a Chicago tour and donated the proceeds of a London Messiah concert to stranded dissidents. “I became a refugee in August 1939,” he told them. “I know what it is to be cut off from my home.” Close friends found him warm, considerate and charming. Women found him irresistible. We were chatting about one of his Frankfurt friends, the Marxist dialectician Theodor Adorno, when Solti reflected that they shared a love of wine, women and good music – “in reverse order”. “Much the same as you do,” I ventured. “Not wine,” corrected Solti, whose evening tipple was a malt whisky. “But women?” “Always.” He recalled the sweet beginnings. “Until I came to Switzerland, I was very faithful. I had one girlfriend and I wanted to marry that girl. If I didn’t have such an intelligent mother, who said, ‘Just wait another year – you have no money’, who knows what might have been?” The loneliness of exile drove him to seek more varied company. His head was turned in the street by passing blondes, and very often he found them responsive. Later on, at Covent Garden, it was rumoured that Solti gave white mink coats to the singers he slept with. Counter-rumour had it that some singers bought themselves white minks to give an impression of intimacy with the music director. Who knows what to believe? In his memoirs, Solti has preserved a gentlemanly discretion. “I have been as truthful as possible in the book,” he said. “Listen, what’s wrong with liking women? Vat you want – I should be homosexual? It’s the natural way. A musician loves life. I love life in all directions.” But the act of love was never far from his mind. At a recent record industry party, he recalled being lobbied by an American executive who was defending three-minute shellacs against Decca’s long-playing record. Solti heard the man out, then said: “Tell me, what do you prefer – coitus interruptus, or coitus? Myself, I like coitus.” He married for the first time in Switzerland – a girl called Hedi Oechsli who was pregnant with her second child when they met, and left both husband and children for the penniless musician. Solti made no bones about the illicitness of their liaison. Nor did he make much of the fact that her husband was a member of parliament who could have had him expelled. Solti credited Hedi with getting him to read books and polishing his table manners. In London, she did much to smooth his path with the Covent Garden toffery. He met his second wife, Valerie Pitts, when she went to interview him one Friday night at the Savoy for BBC Television, and stayed. She was married and, at 27, barely half his age. “It was a violent affair,” he once said. Valerie opened his eyes to the visual arts and gave him a family, for which he would sacrifice anything – racing out of Chicago concerts to reach London in time for his little girl’s birthday. He lay awake worrying what could be done to bring young people back to classical music. He planned to collar Tony Blair and urge him to increase Covent Garden’s subsidy in exchange for cheaper seats. “Otherwise, better to close it down than to carry on muddling,” he believed. He made repeated attempts to push through a merger between two London orchestras and create a world-class ensemble. “It is a great sadness that we can’t play a better operatic or symphonic standard here,” he lamented. “The musicians deserve better and the public deserve better.” Latterly, I would watch him stand back in the podium and allow himself to enjoy the music. “He is extremely demanding and egotistical,” said a close associate before Solti’s death, “but, at heart, he is a very humble person.” In Chicago, he prayed for his successor, Daniel Barenboim, to do well, “because then I can be forgotten”. Asked how he would like to be remembered, Solti shrugged and seemed, for the first time in my experience, lost for words. As I moved towards the door, he made a parting request. “Would you kindly,” said Solti, “not bring out so much my love of ladies?” He shot me another of those male-to-male looks. “Anyway,” he added, quite unconvincingly, “I am an old man now.” (c) Norman Lebrecht, 1997

Royal Opera House

September 1

Pick of the Proms: 5 BBC Proms you won’t want to miss

Semyon Bychkov at the BBC Proms © 2013 Chris Christodoulou Prom 9: Beethoven’s Fidelio Love and liberty triumph over political oppression in Beethoven’s only opera. Soprano Ricarda Merbeth stars as the daring Leonora who disguises herself as prison guard Fidelio in order to save her husband Florestan, sung by tenor Stuart Skelton. Part of the Revolutionary Music series at this year’s Proms, Fidelio is passionate and powerful. Listen to a clip of the performance on iPlayer Prom 49: Bach’s St John Passion Bach’s stirring setting of the Passion narrative is brought to the Proms by Bach expert John Butt and the Dunedin Consort in their Proms debut, alongside soloists including soprano Sophie Bevan . For the more daring members of the audience, this Prom offers aspiring singers the chance to join in with the chorale passages. Listen to the performance in full on BBC iPlayer Prom 59: Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito If you can’t wait until the start of The Royal Opera’s Autumn Season for a dose of Mozart (Die Zauberflöte opens on 12 September 2017) Prom 59 is a fantastic opportunity to experience a work which premiered in the same year. Set in Ancient Rome, La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) is a sophisticated tale of political intrigue and dangerous passions played out to Mozart’s stunning score. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote leads a magnificent Glyndebourne cast, under Music Director Robin Ticciati in this semi-staged performance. Listen to the performance in full on BBC iPlayer Prom 61: Renée Fleming sings Strauss After a captivating performance in Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House last Season, American soprano Renée Fleming returns to London, this time taking to the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. Joining Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra , Fleming sings a programme including the opulent music from the ending of Strauss’s Daphne, the memorable ‘transformation’ scene. As part of the Classical for Starters series, this Prom is the perfect introduction to the voice of one of the world’s most famous sopranos and the mesmerizing music of Strauss. Listen to the performance in full on BBC iPlayer Prom 63: Taneyev, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky Semyon Bychkov continues his Tchaikovsky Project season with this stunning Russian programme culminating with Tchaikovsky ’s epic Manfred Symphony. The passion and colour of this programmatic symphony, based on Byron’s poem of the same name, shows the narrative power of Tchaikovsky’s music. His three full-length ballet scores – The Nutcracker , Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty – remain favourites of classical music audiences the world over. Listen to the performance in full on BBC iPlayer What were your Proms 2017 highlights? Let us know in the comments below. The Royal Opera House and the BBC are partners.




Classical iconoclast

August 31

Renée Fleming at the Proms Barber Nielsen Oramo

Prom 61 : Renée Fleming sang Samuel Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Strauss with Sakari Oramo conducting the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (Konserthuset Stockholm), , in a programme that included  Carl Nielsen's Symphony no 2 "The Four Temperaments" and Andrea Tarrodi's Liguria.  Though the Nielsen was the highlight of the performance - done with great verve - BBC marketing played up the diva, whom most of the audience had come to hear. And rightly so, for Fleming is more than just a singer, she's a personality of such stature that any opportunity to hear her now should be cherished. For me, the draw was Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 op 24 (1948), an astonishing beautiful piece which I love dearly. There's nothing quite like it.  It's a stream-of-consciousness reverie, heard through a haze of orchestration, evoking what it feels like to be young and protected, still within the embrace of loved ones.  It is high summer,in Tennessee, inn the cool of the evening after a long, hot day. "...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars."  Note the melody with its sense of slow, rhythmic movement, as if the whole world was a cradle, rocking gently in the breeze.  Nothing much happens, and that's the beauty.  In the quietude, even the tiniest detail is lovingly observed, like the streetcar in this distance,  whose "iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten." Time itself seems to slow down and compress. The moment is so precious that the text lingers on images, trying to make them last as long as possible.  Thus the sudden exaltations, with inventive non-words created spontaneously.  "..They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near.".   Eventually even the images shrink to their most instinctive essence. The poet is an infant again, the very idea of Self erased.  "All my people have larger bodies than mine". But this nostalgia is doomed. The text takes on the semblance of prayer.  Time cannot stand still. These people will die. It's that sense of fragility and loss that makes Barber's Knoxville 1915 such a special piece. This also makes it more difficult to perform than might seem at first.  The orchestration is deceptively simple - a  sensual woodwind melody, gentle strings, soft rocking rhythms, which need to be created with restraint yet deep feeling.   Received wisdom suggests that the singer should sound child-like, but I'm not so sure, for the protagonist is clearly someone who has grown old and learned what it means to lose what's closest and dearest.  Somehow the singer has to evoke both perspectives at once : artfulness, but without artifice.  There are many recordings, but very few get it right.  Better, I think, simple sincerity.  More than ten years ago, I heard a performance so self consciously over the top that I still shudder. (NOT Renée Fleming)  So  I'm so glad that Renée Fleming has at last commercially released a recording of  Barber's Knoxville Summer of 1915 (with Oramo and the RSPO) because the gap in the discography needs her.  Now, she's no ingénue and needs effort to project in the Royal Albert Hall. If that means sacrificing clarity of text,, for musical line, that's fine by me. She's  still good value.  She was on more familiar ground with the Transformation scene (Ich komme) from Richard Strauss Daphne. Carl Nielsen's Symphony no 2 "The Four Temperaments" (Op 16, 1902)  describes the  four temperaments - Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholic and Sanguine. An interesting companion  piece to Barber's Knoxville the Summer of 1915.   Nielsen, though, defines each mood with greater expansiveness. With glee, even.  One can imagine Nielsen's exuberant high spirits poking fun at people taking themselves too seriously.  There's a famous set of photos for which Nielsen posed, squirming and grunting, twisting his face in exaggerated emotion.  Please see my post here for more photos)  Sakari Oramo is one of the top Nielsen conductors around.  Indeed, he did the Nielsen symphonies as a group in parallel to a similar set around the same time as did John  Storgårds.  Both conductors are good because they have distinctively individual approaches which highlight aspects of the composer's idiom. Oramo's positive-thinking geniality works extremely well, especially in this symphony where each Temperament needs to be defined with almost anarchic humour.  Earthy playing from the Royal Stockholm players, with lots of mischevious spark.  Definitely the high point of the whole evening !  The Prom began with Andrea Tarrodi's Liguria, a world premiere, an atmospheric piece evoking the moods of the landscape or seascape around Liguria. Rich, full bodied sounds, moving on multiple levels at once, as dense and teeming in detail as the ocean is.  A central passage where clarinets, flutes and oboes dance together before lively percussion and pizzicato figures. In a third section, the pace and textures build up before detumesence in sparkling figures, lit by tolling bells.  A very well written piece that deserves to be heard again in a programme that gives it more prominence.

Tribuna musical

August 14

Festival Barenboim: Segunda Parte

El tercer concierto del Festival presentó al Trío formado por Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violín) y Kian Soltani (cello) en tres tríos de Beethoven: N1, Op.1 Nº1; Nº4, Op.70 Nº 1. "de los Espíritus" ("Geister"); y Nº6, Op. 97, "Archiduque". El programa de mano tuvo curiosos errores: a) no aclaró si había intervalo (no marcaba Primera y Segunda Parte), pero por supuesto lo hubo; b) no es un error pero no tiene sentido poner en el título Músicos de la WEDO; c) No hubo comentarios sobre las obras; d) el sobrenombre alemán del Nº4 es "Geister", "espíritus" o "de los espíritus", no "Geist" ("Espíritu"), como figuraba; e) y conviene ponerle número a los tríos.               Daniel Barenboim especificó en la conferencia de prensa que habían decidido que este trío sea estable. Y esto lleva a un viejo problema de los tríos para piano y cuerdas, y es que el pianista casi siempre queda como "primus inter pares", como ciertamente ocurrió con los famosos tríos Beaux Arts (Menahem Pressler) o de Trieste (Dario de Rosa). Sin embargo, hubo tríos con integrantes parejos y admirables: Cortot-Thibaud-Casals; Rubinstein-Heifetz-Feuermann; Istomin-Stern-Rose. Para que ello ocurra se necesita que los ejecutantes de cuerda tengan un sonido amplio y poderoso y una fuerte personalidad para poder equipararse con el mayor volumen del piano, sobre todo si es un artista de la envergadura de Daniel Barenboim. Y aquí esto no ocurre. El problema se nota menos en Soltani, un profesional de muy buen nivel, con grato timbre y fraseo musical, pero que en los pasajes forte o fortissimo quedó dominado por el piano. Pero Michael Barenboim, siendo correcto y de buen gusto, no tiene la presencia requerida para tomar el mando cuando la música lo requiere ni la intensidad para aquellos momentos donde Beethoven exige mucho.  Y sin embargo, el total fue mejor que la suma de las partes, porque las interpretaciones estuvieron claramente dominadas por las ideas del pianista, consumado beethoveniano como bien lo hemos experimentado aquí. Foto: facebook.com/PorSiempreColoneros             Daniel Barenboim dijo algo más en la conferencia de prensa: que iban a ejecutar la integral de Beethoven en Europa, y allí harían algo que me parece audaz: combinarlos con tríos de contemporáneos.  Y los mencionó: Borovsky, Alexander Goehr, Aribert Reimann.             El Op.1 Nº1 no es el mejor de de los tres de ese opus, escritos entre 1793 y 1795, ya en la etapa vienesa de Beethoven. Pero el compositor ya en sus muy tempranos tres cuartetos para piano y cuerdas de 1785 cuando vivía en Bonn (se discute si éstos o los dos de Mozart son los primeros escritos en la historia para esa combinación) había mostrado gérmenes de su particular estilo, y en el ínterin hubo varias otras piezas de cámara sin número de opus, incluso un Trío para piano y cuerdas, un duo y un octeto. De modo que vale la pena escuchar ese Op.1 Nº1 por sus propios valores, ya considerables, y en una versión que tuvo el necesario transparente clasicismo.             Por supuesto, hay una enorme diferencia con el Op.70 Nº1 de 1808, en pleno período intermedio marcado por obras como los cuartetos Rasumovsky o la Quinta sinfonía;  es una obra maestra en la que un extenso movimiento lento lleno de sombras y misterio (los espíritus) es encuadrado por dos rápidos de inmensa vitalidad. Estuvo en el pianista toda la garra requerida en los dos extremos y la sutileza tímbrica para el intermedio; intentaron seguirlo con buen pero no óptimo resultado los instrumentistas de cuerda.             Y naturalmente, el extenso Trío Nº6, "Archiduque", es la culminación de la escritura beethoveniana en este equilibrio de instrumentos opuestos. Algo posterior (1811), y precedido por los cuartetos Nos.10 y 11, la maestría es total. El fraseo del pianista fue desde el principio el que debía ser, con ortodoxia bien entendida, firme estructura, matices exactos y articulación límpida. Sus compañeros fueron muy aplicados pero fue demasiado claro quién mandaba.             Y esta vez Daniel Barenboim tenía las obras bien en dedos, sin las vacilaciones que hubo cuando tocó el Trío de Tchaikovsky tiempo atrás. Es que incluso un gran maestro como él no debe confiarse demasiado, el trabajo es siempre necesario.             No hubo pieza agregada y estoy de acuerdo: fue un programa extenso y arduo. No me molestó que bajara la tapa del piano tras saludar al público durante varios minutos.                                                CUARTO CONCIERTO             El último programa reunió dos partituras extraordinarias escritas con pocos años de diferencia: "Don Quijote" de Richard Strauss (1897) y la Quinta sinfonía de Tchaikovsky (1888). Las dos están entre las obras cumbres del postromanticismo. Se ofreció esta combinación con la Orquesta WEDO dirigida por Barenboim tres veces: como cuarta función del Abono Barenboim y en días consecutivos para los dos abonos del Mozarteum Argentino. Elegí la última función como homenaje mío a la institución que trajo de vuelta al artista hace varias décadas y nunca ha dejado de tenerlo en sus abonos en las numerosas veces que vino desde entonces.             Décadas atrás escribí un muy detallado artículo para Ars, esas revistas-libro que Isidor Schlagman editó durante fructíferos años sobre determinados grandes creadores, en este caso Strauss; yo me ocupé de los poemas sinfónicos y no me cupo duda de que fue la figura máxima en este género que había inventado Franz Liszt con una profusa y despareja producción aún mal conocida aquí (ello debería repararse) y que otros como Sibelius o el propio Tchaikovsky también ilustraron. Ya desde "Don Juan" (1888, creado a los 24 años) el dominio de Strauss de lo narrativo y de la orquestación fue asombroso, y siguieron maravillas como "Muerte y Transfiguración", "Las alegres travesuras de Till" y "Así habló Zarathustra" antes de "Don Quijote" y "Una vida de héroe". O sea que antes de ser el más importante operista alemán del siglo XX fue el más gran compositor sinfónico de esa nacionalidad en las postrimerías del XIX.              "Don Quijote", la maravilla de Cervantes, fue leída en alemán por Strauss, y el compositor fue influenciado por las sabrosas caricaturas de Daumier.  Pensando no sólo en la narración sino en la estructura, el músico agregó: "Variaciones fantásticas sobre un tema de carácter caballeresco". Y así, la obra consta de Introducción, tema, diez Variaciones y Final. Dura  unos 45 minutos y son una constante revelación analizando una partitura de enorme riqueza y complejidad. Don Quijote (violoncelo solista), Sancho Panza (viola solista, pero también tuba tenor y clarinete bajo combinados) y brevemente Dulcinea (violín solista) se entremezclan con una orquesta poderosa y variadísima. La manera en la que Strauss refleja la pérdida de la razón de su antihéroe en la Introducción es la de una frondosa trama de contradicciones; luego el noble tema del violoncelo nos da la esencia del personaje; y las variaciones son de un ingenio y una audacia inolvidables: basten la evocación del rebaño de ovejas en la segunda variación, que parece el Penderecki vanguardista, o el viaje por los aires en la séptima (con máquina de viento). Aunque también están los minutos de belleza serena en la tercera y sexta. Y luego el retorno a la razón en el Final y los conmovedores acentos del violoncelo antes de la muerte del Quijote. Foto: facebook.com/PorSiempreColoneros             Una pequeña anécdota personal: cuando en 1973 programé el abono de la Filarmónica vino Leonard Rose y le pregunté si aceptaba en vez de un  concierto ser solista en "Don Quijote"; respondió entusiasmado que sí, pero el director no conocía la obra y luego canceló por enfermedad; con poco tiempo fue reemplazado por Tauriello, que no la tenía en repertorio, y terminaron ofreciendo una notable versión del concierto de Dvorák…             Quiso la casualidad que "Don Quijote" fue presentado por el Mozarteum el año pasado por la Filarmónica de Hamburgo dirigida por Kent Nagano y con el admirable Gautier Capuçon como solista. Me las veo en figurillas para decidirme por esa versión o la más reciente y declaro un empate de muy alto nivel, ya que hubo dos grandes directores, muy buenas orquestas y solistas de notable talento. Fue un constante placer con momentos memorables, y de paso quedó claro que Soltani es ya un solista internacional de primer plano con un sonido de gran belleza y una sensibilidad en el fraseo que nos dio el personaje. También, que la violista Miriam Manasherov es de muy alta calidad.  Curiosamente se dio una pieza extra: un arreglo para violoncelo y cuerdas realizado por Lahav Shaní de "El cisne" de Saint-Saëns (de "El Carnaval de los animales").  Otra ocasión para que Soltani (austríaco de familia persa) despliegue su habilidad para el "cantabile".             Pocas sinfonías son tan justamente famosas como la Quinta de Tchaikovsky en su fusión ideal de temperamento hiperromántico y de consumado dominio compositivo; en ella el temperamento melancólico es finalmente vencido por la voluntad positiva, a diferencia de lo que ocurre en una obra todavía superior, la Sexta, "Patética". Se han escuchado versiones de calidad superlativa en nuestra ciudad, como las de Mehta con la Filarmónica de Israel, una orquesta permanente de gran nivel, pero Barenboim logró de la WEDO un  rendimiento extraordinario, apenas opacado por muy circunstanciales errores. Pensando en el director que uno asocia con estructuras gigantescas como las sinfonías de Bruckner o el que logra dilucidar obras de Berg o Boulez, me asombró su afinidad con una personalidad tan hipersensible como la de Tchaikovsky, pero Barenboim demostró que todo lo que hay que hacer es ser fiel a la partitura sin agregar exageraciones a lo que ya de por sí está al rojo vivo. De ese modo la estructura queda resaltada y se comprende porqué Tchaikovsky fue un gran sinfonista.             No está de más comentar que la gestualidad de Barenboim es muy particular: hace muy altos movimientos para dar entradas, en pasajes que tienen una métrica similar apenas marca el compás tras hacerlo al principio del fragmento, y tiene una infalible percepción de cuáles son los momentos que  necesitan de una energía total. En cuanto a la WEDO merece mencionarse la intensidad de los violines en el temible final y el bello sonido de la primera trompa en su famosa melodía del movimiento lento. Y vale felicitarlos por llegar al final de su visita tan espontáneos y entusiastas tras días de arduo trabajo.             La pieza extra en esta ocasión fue la Polonesa del "Eugen Onegin" de Tchaikovsky, en una espléndida versión (habían tocado el día anterior la obertura de "Ruslan y Ludmila" de Glinka). Lástima que cuando el director se dirigió al público deslució su justo homenaje al Mozarteum con una despectiva alusión al Coliseo comparándolo con el Colón, ello después de decir que siempre se iban tristes por tener que dejar al mejor teatro del mundo. Pero  conviene decir que este festival fue realmente bueno, y me intriga mucho el de 2018 sin Argerich cuando todo será Barenboim y su orquesta berlinesa y por primera vez estará en el foso para dirigir una ópera. Pablo Bardin ​​



My Classical Notes

August 8

Performed by Piano Duet

Musical compositions for piano duet certainly exist, yet they are limited. As such, some performers have resorted to arranging colorful and rich orchestral works to be performed by duo pianos. Let me share with you one such new recording today: “Colors” brings us the following selections: Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune La Mer Strauss, Richard: Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils Der Rosenkavalier: Waltzes Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 All of the above works arr. for piano duet and performed by Tal and Groethuysen (piano duet) The piano duo Tal & Groethuysen has thrilled classical music audiences for more than 30 years. They have received innumerable accolades worldwide for their recordings with Sony Classical, including five ECHO Klassik Music Awards, nine German Record Critics’ Prizes, and the Cannes Classical Award. They have recorded Debussy’s famous orchestral works Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and La Mer in four-hand versions full of evocative colour, the first arranged by the composer himself and the second in a reduction for four hands by André Caplet. The duo also chose works by Richard Strauss for this album: the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from the opera Salome and the “Waltz Sequence” from the “Rosenkavalier” in arrangements by Johannes Doebber and Victor Babin. They have also recorded the famous symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel by Strauss arranged for four hands by Otto Singer. A fascinating recording presenting well-known romantic pieces in amazing arrangements, allowing them to be heard in a new light. Here are the piano duo Tal & Groethuysen in the music of Brahms:

Classical iconoclast

August 8

National Youth Choir of Great Britain Prom : Walton Prokofiev Karabits

Kiril Karabits conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra  and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain in a Prom featuring Beethoven, Richard Strauss and William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast but the gem was a miniature, Prokofiev's cantata Seven, they are Seven op 30. If Seven, They are Seven could ever be a "miniature", that is. Though it runs barely seven minutes it's so concentrated that once heard, it's never forgotten.  Valery Gergiev conducted it with the London Symphony Orchestra in March 2017, nearly lifting the roof off the Barbican Hall.  At the Royal Albert Hall with its cavernous capacity and raised dome, it might be less of a bone shaker, but is still an experience.  An ideal vehicle for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain to let rip. The text for Seven, they are Seven is taken from a Mesopotamian script describing the beginning of time, when seven demonic gods control creation.  Malevolent gods, and violent.  Since Prokofiev was writing in 1917, we can reasonably assume he wasn't writing about Tigris and Euphrates 5000 years ago, but about Russia at a time of upheaval.  A loud crash, followed by a scream in which the whole choir can indulge in force. The piece is written for tenor, but relatively few have the dark timbre and forceful projection to carry it off its vocal extremes, pitted against a huge orchestra and choir. David Butt Phillip  manages well, his voice carrying over the thumping ostinato behind him. One man against the forces of hell.  The choral line is equally dramatic : repeated lines, some thumping, others wildly angular, wavering like flames and winds.  Suddenly the volume drops. Cymbals crash, timpani rumble. Butt Phillip sings sotto voce, intoning mysterious prayer. From a rarity to a hardy perennial, William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. The setting is again ostensibly Babylon, but the real reason for including it in this Prom was to give the Choir another chance to shine.  And they did ! the freshness of younger voices adds to the sense of excitement: Walton's score is quasi Hollywood, maximizing excess, with brass bands thrown into the heady mix.  Biblical as its context may be, it';s hardly pious, but very much a piece of its time (1931) when the jazz age still prevailed and the Bright Young Things partied like there'd be no tomorrow,  Belshazzar's having a rave.  "Babylon was a great city" sang James Rutherford, enumerating the treasures"...chariots, slaves and the souls of men". Singing with unbridled delight, the choir seemed to be having a good time.  "Praise thee !, Praise thee !"  But as we know, parties don't last forever.  Ominous sounds from the orchestra. The King sees a hand writing on the wall "Mene, mene tekel upharsim". The  "Hebrew" sound of trumpets. the choir emphazing the baritones words with dramatic finality "Slain !" Slain!"  Then we're back to zany 30's celebration. "Hallelujah ! Hallelujah!" Flamboyant riffs give way to ecstatic swoons.  "And the Light of the Lord shall shine on us".  Yet more ecstatic Hallelujahs. "Make a joyful noise!"  The photo above, from the choir's 2016 Prom,  illustrates the vibe so well.

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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