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Edward Elgar

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Guardian

January 19

Bergen Philharmonic/ Gardner review – vibrancy and passion

GuardianSymphony Hall, Birmingham Works by Grieg and Walton showcased the orchestra’s confidence and feeling for colour, while soloist Truls Mørk gave a memorable reading of Elgar’s cello concerto The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – whose history goes back over 250 years – is riding high. Their chief conductor, Edward Gardner, has just extended his contract with them until 2020, and their recording of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is nominated for a Grammy. It’s a buoyant ensemble that Gardner has brought to Britain for a short tour, the variety of its alternating programmes itself testimony to the vibrancy of the relationship.Birmingham is effectively home ground for Gardner; even so, it was a bold move to bring Elgar and Walton to this audience. However, he opened with four movements from the Peer Gynt suite by Bergen’s own Edvard Grieg, and it was in the very finely controlled dynamic shading, notably in Death of Åse, that the musicians showed their mettle. Continue reading...

Tribuna musical

January 9

Witty Bernstein, Honegger Christmas and “Degenerate art”

This is the last survey of the by now extinct musical season. Two of the five comments are about the Colón; two concern the cycles of the National Library. The Art Institute of our mighty theatre does a special project each year: a short opera wholly prepared, sung, staged and played by students, naturally with professors´ supervision. I find it a very rewarding and intelligent idea, for from it will come the professionals of the future, bred at the source. They call it Workshop of Operatic Integration. In 2015 it was Ravel´s lovely "L´enfant et les sortilèges", so good that it was presented again in 2016 in the series of events for children of the Colón (another interesting initiative). Claudio Alsuyet as Director of the Institute is doing a fine job, and this was proved by the December première of Leonard Bernstein´s witty 45-minute one-acter, "Trouble in Tahiti" (words and music by the charismatic American artist). Tahiti is only mentioned by the couple of the Thirties (Dinah, soprano; Sam, baritone) living in New York´s suburbia. Married for ten years, their relationship is in trouble; the taut seven scenes have a sweet/sour taste but finally the unraveled becomes whole again. The music mirrors every mood, more dissonant when they quarrel, smoother when things calm down. The touch of genius (and a reminder of Bernstein´s musical comedy side; arguably "West Side Story" is one of the very best) is that each scene is followed by a brief interlude in which a trio of singing comedians bring back the Roaring Twenties carefree cabaret style. The brilliant staging by Romina Almirón gave us a slice of American Zeitgeist, with talented handling of the singers and funny, à-propos projections, plus intelligent stage, costume and light designs. With first-rate support of a 15-strong chamber orchestra combining students and professors and led by Emmanuel Siffert with unerring sense of style, the couple was sung and acted with professional firmness by Vanesa Aguado Benítez and Mariano Gladic, and the trio did their bits with hand-in-glove precision (Milagros Burga, Germán Polón and Luis Asmat). The venue was the Teatro 25 de Mayo, nicknamed the Little Colón, a nice hall at Avenida Triunvirato. At the Colón the Resident (Estable) Orchestra offered a Christmas concert which featured Honegger´s "Une Cantate de Noël", a late work (1953) which starts rather grimly with a "De profundis clamavi" but in its second part, "Peace and joy to you, Israel", becomes gradually exulting, with quotes from famous German and French Christmas carols. Both baritone Alejandro Meerapfel, the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez) and the Colón Children´s Choir (César Bustamante) sang with conviction, fine voices and accuracy. Before and after, things were aesthetically worlds apart. Brazilian conductor Roberto Minczuk, of vast career, initially had the ungrateful task of accompanying the fluffy and badly orchestrated Concerto for oboe on motifs from Donizetti´s "La Favorita" by Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924), a mere vehicle for the virtuoso playing of Rubén Albornoz. After the interval the Estable, generally confined to the pit, had the challenge of Brahms´ majestic First Symphony, and both conductor and orchestra acquitted themselves with a powerful, concentrated reading of what is probably the best First in history. Alas, at the cost of leaving aside (no explanation) the long-announced Second Symphony ("Rome) by Bizet, very rarely done and not the equal of the astonishing First of the teenager composer, but still a score of charm and freshness worth reviving. The National Library has a cozy Auditorio Borges of good acoustics and it is the venue of a worthy project called Plural Music (Música en Plural) organized since many years ago by Haydée Seibert and Bárbara Civita. The idea is mixing different textures in the same concert, as a way of showing the variety of chamber music. In 2016 there were nine concerts and I could only catch the last one, although some of them were very alluring. In this case, a song recital by mezzo Mariana Rewerski accompanied by pianist Valeria Briático was followed by the pithy, intense Elgar Quintet for piano and strings. The singer chose well: fast Villanelle by Cécile Chaminade, a beautiful melody by Massenet ("Nuits d´Espagne"), Reynaldo Hahn both in French ("Paysage", very evocative) and English (three of the Five Little Songs on clever texts by Robert Stevenson), showing the versatility of this Venezuelan who spent most of his life in Paris; "Dream Valley", one of the numerous songs by the Britisher Roger Quilter; and two fine Argentine choices: "Cita" by Guastavino and "Canción de la luna lunanca" by Ginastera. Both artists are accomplished professionals who sing and play with style, good taste and accuracy. The Quintet (1919) is mature Elgar at its best, written immediately after his Quartet (1918): dense Postromanticism with real substance and structure, it was admirably played by Graciela Reca (piano, from Entre Ríos) and string players of true knowledge and sound technique who happen to be great friends: Haydée Seibert Francia and Gustavo Mulé (violins), Elizabeth Ridolfi (viola) and Myriam Santucci (cello). Civita and Seibert Francia had another splendid idea at the same venue: two concerts, one instrumental and the other vocal with piano, called "The forbidden sounds", centering on the music that Hitler and Goebbels called "Entartete Musik" ("Degenerate Music"). I could hear the second, with Susanna Moncayo (mezzo), Víctor Torres (baritone) and Pierre Blanchard (piano). The first group, with Moncayo, was a selection of music from Terezin, the concentration camp of Jews in Czech territory used by the Nazis to mock UN envoys by making them believe that the inmates could create plays and pieces of music and were well treated, when in fact after the visit they were sent to Auschwitz...The hymn and the song of Terezin plus a couple of cabaret songs by Karel Svenk and Adolf Strauss were heard in this concert. Than, those composers considered degenerate but in exile. Schönberg is the man who invented the twelve-tone system, but his funny Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret songs) are tonal and sarcastic and quite early (1901). Finally, the songs of Berlin leftist composers who lived the decline of the Weimar Republic: Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau ("Song of the great capitulation") and Weill: "The ballad of sexual submission" from "The twopenny opera", plus "Abschied" ("Farewell") , by Moncayo. Cynical, harsh, disenchanted songs. I was surprised that they ended with a funny Fred Raymond duet, for he belonged to the different world of light operettas during the Third Reich. But the afternoon was interesting, with Moncayo´s crossover way opposed to the more classical Torres, both finely accompanied by Blanchard. Have you ever wondered about whether there were cantatas extolling Hitler, paralleling those written for Lenin and Stalin? I have never found any reference to them; how strange in a megalomaniac regime if they were absent... For Buenos Aires Herald




Classical iconoclast

January 8

Barbican Spring programme picks

At last, green shoots of Spring emerging from the gloom. The Barbican Spring schedule offers plenty if hope First off from 13-15 January, Simon Rattle conducts György Ligeti Le Grand Macabre, with the LSO and a strong cast that headed by Peter Hoare as Piet the Pot. I love Ligeti's quirky music and enjoyed then ENO production by Alex Ollé and Las furas del Baus back in 2009  Read more here   That was the one with the giant woman whose body "was" the stage.  Le Grand Macabre is as frustrating as it is inventive,  so staging it takes some doing  But I'm not sure what Peter Sellars will do to it  No doubt it attracts the mega trendy crowd as it's selling fast though very expensive.  On 19/1, however, and just as high profile, Rattle is conducting  Mahler Symphony no 6 together with the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Remembering 'in memoriam Evan Scofield.  This is a keynote concert, which will also be streamed on the LSO website, a wonderful development, since it brings the orchestra to the world Another Britisn music world premiere the next day, 201, Philip Cashian's The Book of Ingenious Devices, conducted by Oliver Knussen, together with Strauss Macbeth and Elgar Falstaff  An intriguing programme in true Ollie style - will Cashian's piece have Shakespearean connections ?  Huw Watkins is the soloist so presumably it's a piano concerto of some sort   A big threme this season is "Russian Revolutionaries",  so plenty of Shostakovich, but more unusually, Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 2 with the Melos Ensemble at LSO St Luke's on Jan 21st  That weekend, a Philip Glass Total Immersion with better choices than some recent Total Immersions. All ears and eyes alert for Jonas Kaufmann's four day residency at the Barbican at the beginning of February That's been sold out for months, so hopefully, he'll be well enough   Wagner, Strauss (Vier letzte Lieder, nach !)  he's also doing an "in conversation"  Sakari Oramo with the BBCSO and Antonio Pappano with the LSO, both interesting non standard programmes, and Daniel Harding weithn the LSO on 15/1 with Rachmaninov Symphony no 2 and another Mark-Anthony Turnage premiere,  Håkan with dedicatee Håkan Hrdenberger as soloist. Yet another British composer premiere, Nicola LeFanu's The Crimson Bird for soprano (Rachel Nicholls) and the LSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov on 17/2 and  a Detlev Glanert premiere on 3/3 with Oramo and the BBC SO.  An extended Nash Ensemble residency at LSO St Lukes (lots of RVW chamber music)  and and Andreas Scholl on 14/3  Then two concerts with Fabio Luisi on 16th and 19th March I'm opting for the second, with Brahms German Requiem François-Xavier Roth starts another After Romanticism series on 30/3 with the LSO - Debussy Jeux, Bartok Piano Concerto no 3 and Mahler Symphony no 1. Then a 3 concert series with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert - John Adams, Mahler, and the European premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Cello Concerto.  Janine Jansen, Murray Perahia and Mariss Jansens with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and a keynote Dvořák Requiem on 13/4 with Jiří Bělohlávek, the BBC SO, the BBC Symphony Chorus, Brindley Sherratt, Ricahrd Samek, Jennifer Johnston and Katerina Kněžíková   Then Easter is upon us ! 

Classical iconoclast

January 6

Nothing Venture - Surreal Nostalgia England 1948

Nothing Venture, NOT "nothing ventured". What is a "nothing" venture ?  Perhaps the title is meant to be ironic, since the film is a  fantasy. An old man is writing, correcting his words as he goes "It was a lovely day in June, when three boys, funnily enough  named Tom, Dick and Harry were walking across the sand between Penforth and Bywater, looking for adventure"  Out of nowhere the boys pop up. "We heard you were writing a new book and thought you'd like to include us in it again".  So this is a surreal world which exists in the imagination, as if frozen forever in time. So much for the sentimental nostalgia, laid on with a shovel.  It's not reality, even though it resembles an idealized England that a fortunate few were lucky enough to experience, for a time. This film was released in 1948 by British Lion and Elstree Independent, and made in Viking Studios of Kensington. None of which now exist  But boys of a certain vintage will swoon, transported back to childhoods long past. Delicious escapist dreams! Tom, Dick and Harry were acted by "The Artemus Boys", Philip, Peter and Jackie, who may or may not have been brothers, since they don't look genetically related, and speak with wildly differing  accents  One is  definitely northern, with vowels as wide as the horizon, though the story is set somewhere on the south coast (Penforth and Bywater don't exist in the same vicinity). But Tom, Dick and Harry cycle off on gearless bikes, through a quaint old town, through fields and  up steep hills, to a tower with a view over several counties, approached through Norfolk Island pines   The boys overhear some men discussing "the Boss"  Just as villains in Enid Blyton are easy to spot because they're not white, these men must be villains because they drive a big car. What are they doing in this remote spot?  Is Michael, a "flatfoot" in a trench coat on their trail?  If so, why is he whistling loudly so all can hear ?  Fortuitously, a lady gets knocked off her horse and Michael drives her and the boys back to her place, Diana's extremely wealthy, and a horse breeder, but she and Michael, rather too posh to be a cop, hit it off "This isn't going to turn into a love story? says one of the boys squeamishly. Michael, Diana and the boys head off to SoutHEMpton (Diana's accent),stopping off first in a fancy hotel,with a dance band. The two older boys wear tuxes They can''t order food – the menu's in French.  The younger boy gets a job as a busboy to spy on the villains, who are staying in the hotel. Next day, they're down at the docks, where the Queen Mary is docking. Great scene, artistically shot, with music that sounds like parody Elgar though it's the best part of the whole soundtrack  The villains are smuggling a secret weapon. The stiff upper lip earnestness is a satire on the militaristic mindset left over from the war that's just ended, but lives on in "boy's magazines". Hence big words are spoken syllable by syllable with histrionic exaggeration.  Diana doesn't turn up at a race meeting but her horse box does. She's been kidnapped by the villains, one of whom has "ways of making people talk", because he ran a concentration camp during the war (I kid you not!)  Diana's Dad is a scientist who knows secret inventions. Luckily one of the boys followed the horsebox and scribbles a clue in chalk for the others to find   Diana and Dad head to a secret underground chamber beneath the tower   Daddy blows up the secret weapon and Diana embraces Michael. "It did turn out a love story after all"  The author reappears "Good bye old chaps, perhaps we'll meet again" The boys are sen walking back towards the horizon at the beach, whence they came. The Artemus boys made one previous film The Great  Escapade in 1947 for the same director, John Baxter, with a script by the same writer, Geoffrey Orme, and then seem to have disappeared   Perhaps they're still around, in their 80's but they'll remain forever young in Nothing Venture.. The eldest boy  had star quality, and was very personable.  Baxter and Orme had rather longer careers, Orme writing a segment for Dr Who, in the 60's.  I loved Nothing Venture because of its tongue in cheek good humour, and the shots of a lost England,where people cycle through quaint countryside, and class divisions are entrenched, though the Artemus boys, Diana and Michael break down stereotypes  The music was by Kennedy Russell, who wrote for film.  



On An Overgrown Path

January 6

An inconvenient truth about the demise of music criticism

The evening closed with Arnold's own Fifth Symphony. Now as a composer and individual, Malcolm is known to dislike critics. I hope he will excuse this one, since I have always enjoyed, more with the taste buds than with the intellect, all his symphonies. They are to be enjoyed, and are not afraid of the big heart, which marks him out as a later successor to Elgar. Certainly, there was much material which could have enhanced the screen, but it was symphonic, it was worked out, it does understand instruments. It does love the poor doomed orchestra. In fact perhaps when a future generation wants some musical documentary evidence of our age, with its dross, its yearning, its violence, its sentimentality - but not particularly its intellectual and mathematical puzzles and despairs, it might well find something to its advantage in the open-hearted honesty of this Falstaffian figure.There is a popular meme usually misattributed to George Orwell that 'Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations'. Although apocryphal, the meme contains much truth. If we take it at face value the quote above from D. Richards' 1972 Musical Opinion review of Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony*, published when the Boulez/Glock axis controlled classical music in London, is penetrating journalism. By the same token, much of today's music journalism is public relations by another name. It is currently fashionable to blame the demise of music criticism on philistine and parsimonious media owners. It is currently very unfashionable to blame the demise of professional music critics on the bread being taken from their mouths by the highly disruptive music industry funded business model devised by self-serving, click baiting scribes whose primary sources are press releases and social media gossip. * The bizarre programme New Philharmonia Orchestra programme in the Festival Hall which was concluded by Sir Malcolm's symphony also included Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Richarde Strauss' Burleske for piano orchestra. The portrait of Sir Malcolm Arnold is by June Mendoza. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Reluctantly also on Facebook and Twitter.

Edward Elgar
(1857 – 1934)

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.



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