Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Many years ago I met pianist Vladimir Feltsman, as he was resting outdoors prior to a concert in Aspen, Colorado. I found him to be a thoughtful, expressive person, and I loved his playing of the Bach Goldberg Variations once the concert began. Today I have for you a new recording by Mr. Feltsman which allows us to listen to music by Robert Schumann: Vladimir Feltsman plays Schumann Piano Works Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15 Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 Blumenstück, Op. 19 Kreisleriana, Op. 16 Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 Waldszenen, Op. 82 Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 Albumblatter, Op. 124 Carnaval, Op. 9 Bunte Blätter, Op. 99 Bunte Blätter, Op. 99: Stücklein Romance in F sharp major, Op. 28 No. 2 plus: Albumblätter (I-V) Performed by Vladimir Feltsman (piano) Pianist and conductor Vladimir Feltsman is one of the most versatile and constantly interesting musicians of our time. His vast repertoire encompasses music from the Baroque to 20 th-century composers. A regular guest soloist with leading symphony orchestras in the United States and abroad, he appears in the most prestigious concert series and music festivals all over the world. Mr. Feltsman’s extensive discography has been released on the Melodiya, Sony Classical, and Nimbus labels. His discography includes eight albums of clavier works of J.S. Bach, recordings of Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas, solo piano works of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Messiaen and Silvestrov, as well as concerti by Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev. Here is Mr. Feltsman in a performance of the wonderful Arabesque Op. 18 by Schumann:
Albert Hall, London Young and established Scottish musicians brought a folksong-inspired new work from Helen Grime and superb accounts of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and ProkofievThe National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s Sunday afternoon Prom with Ilan Volkov opened with the world premiere of Helen Grime’s Two Eardley Pictures – 2: Snow, the second of a pair of works inspired by the painter Joan Eardley, and in particular her landscapes of north-east Scotland, where Grime was also brought up. It takes as its starting point The Scranky Black Farmer, a traditional song from the same region, heard at the outset on the clarinets, then shuttled from instrument to instrument in a series of variations, which in turn form the effective landscape across which scurrying figurations and slowly shifting string chords suggest the flurries and drifts of snow. It’s attractively scored, allowing the NYOS woodwind to shine and bringing out the poised clarity of the strings. The concert also formed part of a series that juxtaposes Tchaikovsky’s concertos with Stravinsky’s early ballets: Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto formed the rest of the programme. Pavel Kolesnikov was the soloist in the latter, wonderfully assured in his virtuosity, yet teasing out the emotional complexities beneath the work’s rather grandiose surface. The central andante, in which the pianist is joined by solo violin and cello, was notably beautiful, while the outer movements had formidable dexterity and panache. Volkov’s Firebird, though, was on the cool side, with a dip in momentum in the lengthy scene between Ivan and the Princesses. But the playing was admirably refined, the textures detailed yet sensuous, the clarity and focus often exceptional. Continue reading...
August 5 marks the opening of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival [EIF]. Together with the Fringe Festival’s cladding of some three thousand satellite events, EIF’s exhaustive programme of theatre, music, dance and opera runs until August 29. In the words of The Spectator: “… you can sleep in September.” Founded in 1947, EIF has developed an enviable international reputation for matching the beauty of the city with the attractiveness of its programmes, and it’s always gratifying to run an eye over the roster of events each year, if only to get a shot of reassurance that the arts in live performance are thriving north of the border, Brexit or no. It’s a hazard of working for Naxos that, whenever the names of particular artists or works hit your eye, the brain shortcuts to entries for the same in the Naxos catalogue. And so it proved when riffling through this year’s EIF music programme. The first one was by proxy, in that the multi-talented Barry Humphries is fronting an evening of ‘degenerate’ music from Germany’s Weimar Republic on 8 and 9 August. Racy, degenerate qualities certainly characterise Humphries’ persona Sir Les Patterson and, to a degree, his alter ego Dame Edna Everage. But the latter proves all sweetness and light on her Naxos recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (8.554170 ), to which she stakes a somewhat unearthly claim: “I tend to believe in reincarnation, call me old fashioned but I do, and it may interest you to know that I am the reincarnation of Serge Prokofiev’s mother. She was a wonderful old Russian housewife, and when little Serge was knee-high to a grasshopper she would put him on her knee and croon old-fashioned folk-tunes to him … most of those tunes his mother hummed are in his masterpiece Peter and the Wolf. That’s why I’m an absolute natural to record this work. After all, I actually wrote it in a spooky sort of way, so I ought to know how to perform it—don’t you agree, possums?” Judge for yourself in this extract from the story’s entrance of the cat! There’s a more definitive case for the next artist’s bid for authority on the music in question. The Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits’ EIF concert on 20 August sees him directing the Russian National Orchestra in a programme of Mussorgsky, Mozart and Tchaikovsky; the following evening’s programme features works by Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Silvestrov. But in 2013 he treated Naxos music-lovers to the world première recorded performances of Three Concertos for Orchestra (8.572633 ), written in the 1980s by his father, Ivan Karabits. Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991, Ivan Karabits became the country’s leading musical figure. His works reflected three traditions in particular: Mahler, Shostakovich and the folk-music of his native country. His untimely death in 2002 undoubtedly robbed us of many outstanding scores. The critics raved unanimously about the Three Concertos for Orchestra. We hope you would readily agree with their response. Here’s an extract from the opening of the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 . Naxos Artist Marin Alsop appears at the EIF on 22 August directing the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in a programme of music by Villa-Lobos, Bernstein and Shostakovich. This month also sees the release of the latest volume in her Prokofiev symphony cycle for Naxos with the same orchestra. Their Edinburgh programme includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (8.559177 ), written in 1965 in response to a commission from the Dean of Chichester in England. Here’s an extract from the 3-movement, 20-minute work, scored for mixed choir, boy solo, strings, 2 harps and percussion. Marin directs the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra here in the jubilant closing section of the first movement , a setting of Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands). Members of the splendid Australian Chamber Orchestra perform at the EIF tomorrow, Saturday 6 August, and their programme features a curiosity—the re-scoring of Mahler’s monumental orchestral song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. Arnold Schoenberg began this arrangement for string and wind chamber forces, piano, celesta, harmonium and percussion, but died before its completion; this was eventually achieved by Rainer Riehn in 1983. Naxos Artist JoAnn Falletta has recently recorded the work with members of the Virginia Arts Festival Players, the Attacca Quartet and soloists. The recording doesn’t become available until October (on 8.573536 ), but we can give you a foretaste with this extract from the first movement, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow . My coda to today’s blog turns from a nod to Edinburgh to many happy returns of the day to Betsy Jolas, the indefatigable French composer who predates the EIF by some 30 years and celebrates her 90th birthday today, 5 August. She’s still going strong: the première of her A Little Summer Suite, a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was directed by Sir Simon Rattle just a few months ago. To bow out, then, here’s an extract from a piano trio she wrote in 2007, dedicated to and premièred by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, and titled appropriately Ah! Haydn (C7020 ). The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs from 5 – 29 August.
Curtain call after Bolshoi Ballet's performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Photograph by Roger Wood 1956 was an exciting year at the Royal Opera House. February marked ten years of Sadler’s Wells Ballet as the resident ballet company at the theatre (honoured with a week of performances of its debut production, The Sleeping Beauty ), and the Company also celebrated its 25th anniversary in May. But arguably the most anticipated event of the year was the Bolshoi Ballet season, scheduled for October, which would be not only the company’s first season at Covent Garden but also its first outside of Russia. Press cuttings held by ROH Collections in five large, bound volumes give a fascinating insight into contemporary public and critical reaction to this historic event, beginning with the coverage around the release of tickets in August. Ballet fans queued outside the theatre for up to 72 hours to secure tickets, travelling from places as far-flung as South Africa, with one couple even bringing their eight-month old baby in tow. Poster for Bolshoi Ballet's London tour, 1956 © ROH Collections Press cuttings from the Bolshoi Theatre Ballet season in 1956 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden © ROH Collections Press cuttings from the Bolshoi Theatre Ballet season in 1956 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden © ROH Collections Programme for a performance of Romeo and Juliet by Bolshoi Ballet in 1956 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden © ROH Collections Programme for a performance of Romeo and Juliet by Bolshoi Ballet in 1956 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden © ROH Collections A scene from Bolshoi Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Photograph by Roger Wood Curtain call after Bolshoi Ballet's performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Photograph by Roger Wood Detail from poster for Bolshoi Ballet's London tour, 1956 © ROH Collections With excitement for the Bolshoi’s visit reaching a crescendo, September brought shocking uncertainty to the table; a diplomatic incident involving the arrest of champion Russian discus thrower Nina Ponomareva for shoplifting – in a case that became known in the press as ‘Nina and the Five Hats’ – threw into question whether the Bolshoi Ballet season would go ahead. Press reported that the Royal Opera House stood to lose £40,000 if the visit was cancelled, but arguably the bigger loss would have been for the Covent Garden audience. It wasn’t until 29 September, just four days before the Bolshoi’s first scheduled performance, that the visit was confirmed. But the off-stage dramatics did not stop there; due to poor weather in London, the planes carrying the Bolshoi dancers had to be diverted to an airbase in Kent, causing a six-hour delay to their arrival and the loss of a day’s rehearsal – which ultimately led to the cancellation of their performance of Swan Lake on 5 October. Press cuttings covering the few remaining days before their debut performance paint a picture of anxious, hurried efforts to ensure the season could go ahead as scheduled. The Bolshoi Ballet dancers strenuously rehearsed their choreography with the only day that was left available to them, while Royal Opera House staff worked hard to unpack and assemble the huge delivery of Bolshoi scenery. Despite the initial uncertainty and last-minute rush, the first Bolshoi season was an unquestionable success. The Bolshoi brought Swan Lake, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, Giselle and the first London performance of Prokofiev ’s Romeo and Juliet (which was watched by a young Kenneth MacMillan from the wings). After the first performance of this on the debut night, critics rushed to sing the praises of the Bolshoi Ballet: Romeo and Juliet ‘hit our sedate Royal Opera House like a tornado’. Particular praise was given to dancer Galina Ulánova , whose star quality was such that she was fawned over by the press for the duration of the visit. British Ballet dancers Margot Fonteyn and Alicia Markova joined members of the Royal family, including a young Prince Charles, as appreciative audience members. After a whirlwind visit, the Bolshoi Ballet returned to Moscow on 3 November 1956. Their first performance had seen David Webster, then General Manager of the Royal Opera House, announcing on stage that ‘I don’t think I am claiming too much if I say this is one of the most historic cultural exchanges ever begun’. Sixty years later, as the Bolshoi Ballet dance another season at the Royal Opera House, it is hard to disagree. Find out more about the Royal Opera House’s historic Collections. The Bolshoi’s season at the Royal Opera House runs until 13 August 2016. Tickets are currently sold out.
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Alsop (NAXOS)Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, appearing at the Proms and Edinburgh shortly, continue their Prokofiev series for Naxos with his sixth symphony, written as an elegy for the victims of the second world war but condemned as anti-Soviet and banned in 1948, a year after its completion. Alsop and her players handle the great climactic moments with elan but the central threnody lacks the compassion of, for example, Sakari Oramo’s recording with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The vibrant Waltz Suite, however, really swings, with some stylish solo playing in all sections of the orchestra. Continue reading...
The Marseillaise on the First Night of the Proms 2016, a powerful start to the BBC Proms season, acknowledging the atrocities in France. Most of the Royal Albert Hall audience stood up in tribute. Terrorism is a global issue even when perpetrators act alone. Nations united are stronger than nations alone. Perhaps that message is lost on some, and the BBC will get it in the neck from vested interests who'd like to replace public services with commercial control, who look for any excuse to accuse the BBC of "bias" real or imagined. Tonight, the BBC placed humanity above political manipulation. The BBC is a more effective ambassador for British integrity than schemers and selfish policies ever could be. This First Night of the Proms was obviously planned ages ago, but we cannot but reflect on how it relates to current events. Music doesn't exist in isolation, and we'd be much lesser people if we didn't care. Hate and division have always been part of the human condition. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote about implacable rivalries, and the pointless waste of young life. Beautiful as it is, Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture ' Romeo and Juliet' would be nothing if we overlooked the tragedy behind Especially niot after that Marseillaise and the images of dead bodies we've been seeing today. The image of Elgar as jingoist persists even though from what we know of the composer, the image is far from the truth. Elgar's Cello Concerto is anything but "pomp and circumstance"; it's poignant and deeply felt. It was written after the death of Alice, his wife and muse, but also after the end of the First World War, in which millions of others were killed, not only in war but through famines, epidemics and ethnic cleansing. In those circumstances victory could not but be tinged with sorrow, In any case 1914-1918 was the beginning of a much wider, global conflict that didn't end until 1945, and a radical new approach to ending conflict. Perhaps we should reflect more on the years of idealism after 1945 than on endless squabbles. In this performance, with Sol Gabetta as soloist, I was particularly moved by the quieter moments, ie the lento, which "spoke" with more depth than a short movement usually gets. First Nights of the Proms often feature blockbusters, since their size suits the cavern that is the Royal Albert Hall. Prokofiev's Cantata Alexander Nevsky was ideal material, featuring as it does massed forces of a scale that the Soviet Union could produce when it needed to make major propaganda impact. I've written extensively on Sergei Eisenstein's monumental film Alexander Nevsky and the role Prokofiev's music played in it. Please see HERE and HERE for more. In this performance, Sakari Oramo, the BBC SO, the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC National Chorus of Wales and soloist Olga Borodina let rip with intense ferocity. Perhaps a little on the wild side, but rightly so, because this is impassioned music. The Russians under Alexander Nevsky were fighting for their very existence. In 1938, when the film was made, the irony of the plot was not lost. The Soviet Union didn't trust the Nazis any more than Nevsky trusted the Crusaders. Although the forces used in the Battle on the Ice were small by modern standards, the conflict was epic, a fight to the death with Nature itself creating havoc. Human history isn't pretty but if we don't learn, we're lost.
Great composers of classical music