Thursday, August 25, 2016
The beautiful opera singer Daniela Dessi died in Brescia on August 20. She was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment last month. Our hearts go out to her husband, the tenor Fabio Armiliato, and their family. Fabio messaged: ‘A short, horrible and incomprehensible illness has taken her away in these months. The greatest opera singer of the last 20 years has gone.’ Engaged by Claudio Abbado at La Scala in the early 1980s, she was quickly taken up by Muti, Mehta, Sinopoli and other leading music directors. James Levine brought her to the Met. She often appeared with her partner, Fabio Armiliato. The pair were singing Aida together in Berlin on the night in April 2011 when their friend Giuseppe Sinopoli collapsed and died in the pit. They never forgot the horror of that moment or the nearness of mortality.
The Colón concert of Thursday, August 4th, was truly memorable. It was the fifth of the Abono Azul (Blue Subscription Series) and was repeated the following day (Función Extraordinaria, non-subscription). The artists were Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). This time the programme was long and satisfying, and all concerned were at their best. One general conclusion: Argerich and Barenboim are at the top of their profession and in their early seventies they show no decline. And the WEDO has improved greatly: it is astonishing that young people on a seasonal (not permanent) orchestra should show such maturity, both in the command of their instruments and in the integration of a common concept. There´s real talent in all of them, though of course they have the privilege of a great conductor that gives them style and unity. The concert began with a première: "Con brio" by Jörg Widmann. Barenboim had already promoted him in two chamber concerts with different programming of the Mozarteum Argentino (in the second he also played clarinet). This score for full orchestra lasts 11 minutes and although it isn´t divided into two parts it changes sharply after the first minutes, characterised by violent attacks followed by deep silences and by the mixture of musical sounds with noise as defined by Britannica: sound that interferes with other sounds that are being listened to. I wasn´t attracted so far, but later we hear recognisable melodies as well as fanfares and the mix becomes intriguing. My wife´s imaginative phrase accords with my reaction: "noises, echoes and resonances of bellicose actions in an inhospitable jungle". Barenboim led the piece with strong impact and the WEDO responded with exemplary discipline. The author made his bow and was warmly applauded. Franz Liszt´s Piano Concerto Nº1 is the most innovative and personal of Romantic concerti. In it (as in the Sonata) rhetorics are never vain; the ideas are substantial, moving and coherent. It is terribly difficult to play: Liszt did for piano technique what Paganini had done for the violin: an extraordinary expansion of the possibilities of each instrument. And his orchestration gives lovely solos for diverse players dialoguing with the piano. You need a true virtuoso that is also a great artist, and a very attentive and collaborative conductor: Sviatoslav Richter and Kyrill Kondrashin are a good reference, and so is Argerich on record with Abbado; live with Barenboim on this occasion will long be in the memories of those who were at this concert. I heard Argerich with Dutoit and the National Symphony in this concerto back in 1969; she was young and an amazing powerhouse. Forty-seven years later her incredible technique and stamina remain untouched (if I except her rushed and not altogether clean first entrance). The final minutes were as exciting as they were musical, always abetted by the best collaboration from the WEDO and Barenboim. There was a wonderful surprise: her encore wasn´t a short and easy piece from Schumann´s "Scenes from childhood" as she generally does, but an ideal performance of the best of Ravel: "Ondine", first number of "Gaspard de la Nuit". The fluidity of the playing in this devilishly intricate piece and the subtlety of her touch were an object lesson of Impressionism (as is her recording of 1974). The second part was simply the best Wagner playing heard here in a very long time. Maybe as far back as Leitner and Leinsdorf in the Sixties. Barenboim conducted at the Bayreuth Festival from 1981 to 1999, and he did the unparelleled feat of doing the ten great operas in a period of a few weeks in Berlin. Wagner is perfect for him: music of enormous technical accomplishment in which the system of Leitmotiven proves to be an astonishingly flexible array of moods and emotions. Wagner´s continuity imbricates easily with Barenboim´s rich intellect. The chosen 45 minutes are among the greatest orchestral music of the Nineteenth Century and had glorious performances: the interpretations were simply beyond reproach and the playing proved that the WEDO is strong in all departments, very minor smudges apart: the mellowness and musicality of the brass, the fine woodwind solos, the mahogany-hued strings always disciplined and intense, all made for a constant state of direct communication with the music. The "Tannhäuser" Overture (Dresden version) went swimmingly both in the solemn pilgrim melodies and in the bacchanical frenzy of the Venusberg. The most dramatically complex music came from "The Twilight of the Gods": the Dawn after the Norns´ scene is joined in the concert adaptation with the final pages of the Siegfried-Brünnhilde duet and goes straight on to the jubilant "Siegfried´s Rhine Journey". But Barenboim cunningly omitted the brilliant coda and went on as in the opera, where the atmosphere becomes gloomy as the hero approaches the Gibichung Palace, for in it looms Hagen, who will kill him in the Third Act; and this version even adds a transformed fragment from the end of the Second Act, that terrible conspiratorial Trio. It would have been better to go on without applause to "Siegfried´s Funeral Music" but that was not to be; anyway, that magnificent evokation was spine-tingling in this version. And the best possible conclusion for the programme, the Overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", to my mind the greatest ever written. The encore was complementary: the serene and sad Prelude to the Third Act of the same opera. For Buenos Aires Herald
There has been general consternation abroad at the decision by Zurich’s Tonhalle orchestra to sack its young music director , Lionel Bringuier, after just one four-year term. Musicians tell us they found his rehearsals boring and unstructured and decided it was time for him to go. Is that so? The most boring rehearsal conductor in recent memory was Claudio Abbado, who drove most of the London Symphony Orchestra and some in the Berlin Philharmonic to despair. But the players persisted until they got used to his methods and eventually they reaped great rewards. Bringuier has been assistant to Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel, both of whom vouch for his talent. What he didn’t learn from them should have been augmented by experienced musicians in the Tonhalle orchestra. But they showed no patience or sympathy for a conductor on a learning curve and let it be known that they’d had enough. A weak manager and a dumb board of bankers and local worthies simply did their bidding. That’s how the Swiss run their orchestras. In Geneva, where two managers walked out of the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, they still don’t know if Jonathan Nott will sign his contract as music director. If he sees what’s happening in Zurich, he should decline. Zurich and Geneva are the two premier orchestras in Switzerland and their clockwork has broken down. Happily, the Lucerne Festival has saved the nations reputation. Its new music director Riccardo Chailly has begun with a Mahler Eighth blast and the orchestra is the envy of the continent. Bringuier, meanwhile, made his Salzburg Festival debut this week.
The Portuguese pianist will be taking part in a concert celebrating the philosophy of Krishnamurti. She will perform Beethoven’s opus 111 at London’s Cadogan Hall. Very quietly. Details here. In this interview, she says Claudio Abbado held similar views.
The 2016 Lucerne Festival opened with Mahler Symphony no 8. Mahler's Eighth celebrates a powerful life force, the spirit of creativity itself, pulling together images from diverse sources. Thus it epitomizes the ideals that led Claudio Abbado to found the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, where the finest musicians from the best orchestras in Europe join together in communal harmony. Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Chailly were very close, and now Chailly carries on Abbado's ideals. Wherever Abbado might be now, his spirit hovered over this performance. This was an extraordinarily thoughtful performance culminating in ecstatic serenity, accessing "the peace that passeth all understanding", absolutely relevant to what the symphony might mean. Listen here on arte.tv (all areas) Although Mahler's Eighth is known as "the Symphony of a Thousand" the title wasn't Mahler's but a marketing slogan invented by a concert promoter. But quantity is not quality. At Lucerne, the orchestra and soloists were supplemented by 222 choristers , arranged in six rows across the width of the hall, the Tölzer Knabenchor along the sides. Voices and orchestra were well balanced, allowing much greater freedom of expression. The boys choir can often get lost in an uproar, but here their relatively small but important role came through clearly. This matters. "So far I have employed words and the human voice to express only with immense breadth", Mahler wrote specifically of this symphony, "But here the voice is also an instrument used not only as sound but as the bearer of poetic thoughts". Poetic thoughts, some so delicate that they can be overwhelmed in interpretations that stress volume over artistry. No chance of that here. In Chailly's Mahler 8, every voice has its place in the grand scheme of things, a concept absolutely in tune with he concepts behind the symphony. And what concepts! This symphony often confounds because it's so unorthodox. The First Part is relatively straightforward, being based on a hymn believed to have been written by Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz (c780-856) which describes the anxiety Jesus's disciples felt after Jesus had gone on ahead. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon them in the form of holy flames, inspiring them to go forth into the world, spreading the Gospels. Throughout his oeuvre, Mahler deals with death, but seeks resolution in some form of eternal life. Thus the symbol of the Pentecost as a metaphor for divine inspiration and continuity, and by extension, the mission embraced by a truly original, creative artist. "Veni Creator spiritus".and "Accende lumen sensibus": images of light and fire illuminate this music. Chailly's clarity let the colours shine unsullied, absolutely essential to meaning. Only technical excellence can produce freedom as exhilarating as this. Everyone on message, singing and playing as if divinely inspired yet in complete harmony. This unity matters, since the concept described in the text applies to all creation. The inspiration was so strong that it seemed to Mahler "like a vision" which struck him "like lightning", making him write so quickly that the notes seemed to fly onto the page as if they were dictated by some unknown force. Chailly's tempi were brisk, reflecting thus sense of urgency, but were not so driven that they obscured contrapunctual detail and the cross-currents that give the music depth. The singing was equally ardent. Many of this cast are Mahler veterans, like Mihoko Fujimura and Peter Mattei (who was on Gielen's second M8 recording and on Chailly's with RCOA). Andreas Schager is less well known, though he's been a very distinctive Siegfried. Here, he sang with fervour, giving his parts great character. The other soloists, all superb, were Ricarda Merbeth, Juliane Banse, Anna Lucia Richter, Sara Mingardo and Samuel Youn. For me, they're all like old friends, so hearing them together, singing with obvious enjoyment, gave added meaning to the experience. Some members of the orchestra are spotted smiling too, caught by a camera crew who knew when and who to highlight. The pause that binds together the two Parts of the symphony was marked with dignity, for out from this silence rises the slow movement which is in many ways the heart of the symphony. It marks the transition, a transition so esoteric that its meaning can't be expressed through text. Although the big choral flourishes catch more attention, this section shows the true measure of a conductor. Chailly's textures here reflected a sense of wonder and mystery.. Absolute refinement and attentiveness. In liturgical terms, this replicates the moment in the Catholic Mass during which the congregation meditates upon the Consecration which symbolizes the union of God and mankind. Hence the delicate but firm woodwinds and strings, and hushed, reverential voices. This section also refers to the moment in Goethe's Faust when Mephistopheles thinks he's won Faust's soul, but is thwarted by angels who scatter rose petals from Heaven, marking the beginning of Faust's redemption. Bergschluchten. Wald. Fels, Einöde. (mountain gorge, forest, cliff, desert), Mahler wrote on the manuscript on the Second Part, a direct reference to the scene in Act Five of Goethe's Faust, which describes a bizarre landscape inhabited by anchorites, complete with tame lions who pace about stumm-freundlich (placid and peacefully). Anchorites are hermits who live alone in the wilderness, but are so close to God that they can tame savage beasts. Again, a clue to what the symphony might mean: the disavowal, of earthly games of domination and greed, sublimated in idealized transcendence. Medieval art wasn't fussed about literal realism. Figures inhabit surreal perspectives, sometimes even hovering over the ground, defying gravity and rational logic. In musical terms, such perspectives, however, work perfectly well. Thus we have Pater Ecstaticus auf and ab schwebend (soaring up and down). Later the angels lift Faust’s soul and they fly off in der höheren Atmosphäre. There’s movement everywhere, which Mahler translates into music that soars and flies ever upwards in different levels. Thus the off-stage trumpets, the organ way above the platform and the Mater gloriosa singing from on high. Yet for Mahler, as for Goethe, redemption comes through Das Ewig-Weibliche that draws us heavenward, as the Chorus mysticus tells us, the Eternal Feminine, embodied in the Mater Gloriosa, the “Jungfrau, Mutter, Königen, Göttin” thus dialogue between "masculine" and "femninine" runs through so much of Mahler's post-Wunderhorn work but few conductors highlight it the way Chailly does. He highlights the interplay between outburst and delicate detail, between combinations like piccolo and harmonium, timpani and harp. Perhaps this dichotomy represents Mahler and Alma, perhaps not, but Chailly is unusually sensitive to this aspect of Mahler's work. A few years ago, Chailly conducted Mahler's Symphony no 10 , creating the duality in the first movement with such grace that it drove some listeners crazy; but that reflected I think more on the misogyny of some listeners than on the performance itself. In Symphony no 8 with its message oif equanamity, union and creative rebirth, that graciousness and sensitivity is paramount. Thus the luxuriant conclusion, in which triumph is achieved without violence; redemption reached through love, not dominance, affirmation, not neurosis. This Second Part proved the wisdom of the size and spacing of the choruses (Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Orfeón Donostiarra, Latvian Radio Choir, Tölzer Knabenchor). Because the sound was thoughtfully spread across the auditorium, the singers could sing naturally, without undue force, thus exemplifying the idea of angels and innocents, purity trouncing demonic forces. " Gloria ! Gloria!" for good reasons. The finale connected extremely well with the final chorus in the First Part. This performance probably wasn't "Mahler 8th for beginners" because it emphasized the "poetic thoughts" Mahler referred to rather than the "Barnum and Bailey" (Mahler's own words) aspects he so feared. The technical excellence of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the singers allowed a performance of genuinely inspired insight : freedom doesn't come from free for all but from a mastery of the forces at hand. Conducting Mahler 8 is no joke. This Lucerne performance, with Chailly wasn't "big blast" but extraordinarily beautiful, revealing the true brilliance of Mahler's vision.
Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, and he died in 1911 in Vienna. For me, one of the most joyous symphonies that Mahler composed is his number 4. It starts with the sounds of cow bells, which imitate the sounds heard by grazing cows at the site in Seefeld, Austria, where the Second and the Third were conceived. I spent a week in the Seefeld area, close to the lake called “Attersee”, and I always connect with Mahler’s music and my own memories. So this recording of the Symphony #4 is my own way of wishing Mahler my own “Happy Birthday”. In this performance, Claudio Abbado conducts Mahler and Schoenberg. Mahler: Symphony No. 4, with Juliane Banse (soprano) Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5 Performed by the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Claudio Abbado conducting. What makes these performances so remarkable is that their impact is never achieved at the expense of exaggerations and extreme interpretations. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande are performed by one of the world’s leading youth orchestras: The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Here, for your enjoyment, is the opening of the Mahler Symphony #4: