Sunday, August 28, 2016
From the Lebrecht Album of the Week: My instant reaction to this 4-CD box was that it’s strictly for audio buffs and English music devotees, whose lives will be infinitely enriched by rummaging through the disused takes of Sir Edward Elgar’s recordings of his own works between 1919 and his death in 1934. My second response, on reading Lani Spahr’s nerdish essay on the masters in Elgar’s private library is that only the golden-ears, acoustic-era brigade would get much out of this. How wrong I was. Read the full review here. And here.
…. play Elgar. Newly posted on Youtube: When musicians of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra flew to Spain in June 2016 for a concert tour, one of the flight groups was stranded at New York’s JFK airport after their flight was cancelled at midnight. In response, they all took out their instruments. Check out as 55 out of 120 BPYO musicians played the Nimrod Variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in the terminal. The cellos and basses sang their parts as their instruments had been packed underneath the plane! Conducted by the Boston Philharmonic Fellow, Kristo Kondakci.
I became a fan of Elgar’s music when I listened carefully to his Violin Concerto. And my connection with him was cemented when I came to love his Cello Concerto, as well. Today I have for you Elgar’s Symphony number 1, and also a shorter work titled “In the South” Elgar: Symphony No. 1 & In the South Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 In the South (Alassio), Op. 50 Performed by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano conductin. Antonio Pappano, who studied piano and conducting, first attracted the attention of Daniel Barenboim, becoming his assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. After working in Barcelona and Frankfurt, he made his debut at Den Norske Opera in Oslo in 1987, becoming music director there in 1990. From 1992 to 2002 Pappano was music director of La Monnaie, the Belgian Royal Opera House. In 2002, he was named music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, his current contract there running to 2017. Pappano has also been principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and in 2005 became music director of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The Guardian write recently: “…Pappano approaches Symphony No 1 and In the South as what they are – important works in the European late-Romantic tradition.” Here is a recording of the Elgar Symphony #1:
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
Santa Cecilia Orchestra/Pappano (ICA Classics)Though Italian orchestras don’t often figure prominently in lists of the world’s greatest orchestras, two of them are currently on a rapid upward trajectory. Riccardo Chailly’s project with the Orchestra of La Scala Milan is still in its early stages, but Antonio Pappano’s creative journey with the Rome-based Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is much farther advanced. Pappano has been its music director since 2005, and a measure of just how good that band is now is shown by two new discs taken from performances recorded live in Rome over the last five years. There’s a pairing of Schumann symphonies, the second and the fourth, and this account of Elgar’s First Symphony, which is coupled with his Mediterranean travelogue, the overture In the South, taken from concerts in 2012 and 2013, respectively.As the Elgar performances demonstrate, Pappano has created a very fine orchestra indeed, one of true international quality. Its playing is not particularly Italianate, but then nowadays it’s rare for one of the world’s great orchestras to have an instantly identifiable sound. There’s nothing specifically recognisable about, for instance, the sound of the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra, and of today’s outstanding bands perhaps only the Staatskapelle Berlin and, on a good day, the Vienna Philharmonic, have a sound that is truly their own. Continue reading...
Does the sound matter anymore? Well it does seem to matter, if the large and mainly positive response to my recent critique of the BBC Proms broadcasts is anything to go by. One reader's response extended comment is being posted below because it provides a different and worthwhile perspective on the tension between broadcast/recorded sound and what a listener hears in the cheaper seats of a large concert hall. The main thrust of my post was that the non-immersive sound heard from those cheaper seats is an obstacle to engaging new audiences, whereas the reader using the pseudonym Iarful comes from the opposite direction and argues that the problem is the artificially immersive sound heard in today's broadcasts and recordings. It may be the same difference, but Iarful's viewpoint is important. His/her reminder of the Quad high-end audio brand's strapline of "The closest approach to the original sound" raises the important question of what is the objective of a classical recording or broadcast? Is it to faithfully reproduce the sound heard in a good seat in the hall? Or is it to create a sales/ratings maximising immersive sonic experience? In his 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America the historian Daniel J. Boorstin coined the term 'pseudo-event' for events created specifically for the media. In recent years the objective of faithfully reproducing the sound heard in the hall has been replaced by the goal of creating an instantly gratifying sonic pseudo-event. Anyone with access to recordings of Proms from the first decades of stereo relays can easily confirm this. Auditioning these archive recordings - see list below for those I used - immediately reveals a sea change in the BBC sound balance. In the 1970s the orchestra was more distant (but not too distant), the sound had space around it, the stereo image was more stable, there was depth as well as width in the soundstage, and solo instruments were not spotlit. The bottom line is that the archive sound is less fatiguing and more truthful to what is heard in the hall, and the differences are not subtle - they are very striking. That slogan of "The closest approach to the original sound" deserves further consideration. When Quad founder Peter Walker came up with the strapline the reference sound was what was heard in a good seat in the concert hall. But as has been explained before, the reference for the majority of listeners is now the up close and personal sound of headphones. So soon priorities will invert, and although the closest approach to the reference sound will remain the goal, the reference sound will change to the immersive experience of recorded/broadcast music. When this happens, to attract new audiences digital technologies will have to be used in concert halls to provide a more immersive sound. But that heretical development could be avoided if audiences are taught the lost art of listening and educated to the nuances of concert hall sound. So do we change the sound or do we change the way audiences listen? There is no doubt that changing the way audiences listen should be the first priority. But what is very puzzling is that among all the agonising over ageing and shrinking classical audiences, no consideration has been given to teaching audiences the art of listening; in fact quite the opposite. Music education for children is vitally important, but so is music education for adults - particularly young adults. Where are today's equivalent of programmes such as David Munrow's Pied Piper, André Previn's Music Night, Anthony Hopkin's Talking About Music, and Leonard Bernstein's televised Young Person's Concerts which introduced millions to the subtle art of classical music? Iarful also makes the important point that overlooked recording formats such as ambisonics and binaural may be the key to providing immersive sound without turning recordings/broadcasts into sonic pseudo-events - that header image comes from a YouTube video of how to make a binaural dummy head. Again it is puzzling that given classical music's new technology obsession - streaming, downloads etc - so little attention has been paid to alternative recording formats. But I have said enough; here is Iarful's comment: I was grateful to see this reminder of the artificiality of the current Proms sound (especially as it is informed by a former professional's understanding of the reasons behind it, both technical and artistic) and mainly wanted to add a reflection from the perspective of musicians, to complement the article's concern with the audience. But with reference to kirkmc's comment, I remember (vividly) my first exposure, well over 30 years ago, to an ambisonic recording of a concert (reproduced without height). My first reaction was that it sounded almost like mono - because hall sound does from most seats after the artificial conditioning of stereo reproduction. My ears soon adjusted to the much greater realism of course and were astonished at the end when I heard applause from all around me followed by people talking in the row behind, their seats tipping up, etc. Stereo sounded absolutely pathetic for a long time afterwards! As far as I am concerned the 'near-mono' of ambisonic rules OK - except that, sadly, it still doesn't, decades later. A week ago I was involved in a discussion on reproduced sound which included two professional pianists. The first was horrified to learn how the Proms sound picture is constructed in the control room from multiple close microphones with artificial reverberation, etc. - just deeply shocked. The other teaches in a music faculty which also runs a sound engineer course, the students on which hone their skills by recording concerts or rehearsals at the musicians' request. She related how there is also the option of recording without the students' help, where a pair of microphones descend from the ceiling and the digital recorder starts. She said that very often she prefers the results produced by this set-up. When I said how I often felt with modern reproduced sound it was impossible for the ear to focus its attention as it can in real life, to concentrate on this or that strand in the music or a particular performer (no doubt caused by the ultimate lack of coherence you describe, and in the early days of digital by its poor performance at low level) so that there was a sort of barrier beyond which one could not hear, she agreed enthusiastically: "Of course!" For all the limitations it may have, the 2 microphone set-up will give a truthful account of balance between the different musicians and just the sort of coherence which is necessary for the ear to do its work, for one to listen actively. So for very different reasons, those who produce the music are also less than satisfied with current practice. As I write I have just been listening to the afternoon repeat of the Brahms 2nd piano concerto from the Proms. A review I read commented that Peter Serkin was at times all but inaudible in the hall. There was of course not a hint of this in the Radio 3 balance. This is an 'improvement' for the listener at home, but that old Quad slogan of "the closest approach to the original sound" has been well and truly abandoned - for good and for ill. To my mind there is a lot more of the latter than most people think, especially if we want audience members to be able to use their ears (and the brains that are connected to them).Archive recordings of BBC Proms broadcasts used in preparation of this post: * Elgar Symphony No. 1: Boult/BBCSO July 1976 * Brahms Symphony No. 3: Boult/BBCSO August 1977 * Janáček The Ballad of Blaník & Martinů Double Concerto: Mackerras/BBCSO July 1979 * Janáček Taras Bulba: Rozhdestvensky/BBCSO August 1981 Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
Sir Edward William Elgar (2 June 1857 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. After a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901) is well-known in the UK and in the US. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of recordings of his works. The introduction of the microphone in 1925 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral.
Great composers of classical music