Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Today’s topic at My Classical Notes is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and specifically his Cantatas for Soprano: Bach, J S: Cantata BWV202 ‘Weichet Nur, betrübte Schatten’ (Wedding Cantata) Cantata BWV152 ‘Tritt auf die Glaubenbahn’ Andreas Wolf (bass-baritone) Cantata BWV199 ‘Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut’ Performed by Carolyn Sampson (soprano), with the Freiburger Barockorchester, Petra Müllejans conducting. Bach’s period as organist to the Duke of Weimar (1708-17) was the time of his early mastery. Nowhere is this more evident than in the small but highly distinguished body of cantatas he wrote there, whether for the court chapel – the Himmelsburg or ‘Castle of Heaven’ – or for some clearly very joyful wedding (BWV202). From the amazing duets for soprano and oboe of the latter to the penitential strains of BWV199, the radiant voice of Carolyn Sampson and the virtuosos of the Freiburger Barockorchester do full justice to Bach’s inventiveness. Soprano Carolyn Sampson has been proclaimed “the best British early music soprano by some distance” by the editors of Gramophone. A native of Bedford, she studied voice with Richard Smart at the University of Birmingham, and made her debut with the English National Opera in a production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and continues to appear with this company with regularity in addition to appearances at the Paris Opera. Here is Carolyn Sampson in music by Haendel:
Sixty years after its premiere at the Met, Glyndebourne is planning the UK premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, a work of unabashed romanticism and limited uptake. Here’s the full Glyndebourne 2018 season: PUCCINI Madama Butterfly Annilese Miskimmon’s Tour 2016 production makes its Festival debut, conducted by Omer Meir Wellber. STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier A revival of the Festival 2014 production from Richard Jones, conducted by Robin Ticciati. HANDEL Giulio Cesare A revival of David McVicar’s 2005 production, conducted by William Christie. DEBUSSY Pelléas et Mélisande A new production from Stefan Herheim, conducted by Robin Ticciati. HANDEL Saul A return for Barrie Kosky’s 2015 production, conducted by Laurence Cummings. BARBER Vanessa A UK premiere directed by Keith Warner, conducted by Jakub Hrůša. And here’s how what it sounds like:
René Papa as Méphistophélès in Faust, The Royal Opera © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2011 Opera’s lowest male voice type is used to explore the best and worst in human nature, from murderous villainy to benign wisdom. Here are some of our favourite examples of bass roles from more than two centuries of opera and what makes them so impressive: Zoroastro – Handel ’s Orlando Zoroastro – whom Handel’s anonymous librettist loosely modelled on the Persian sage Zoroaster – is the voice of reason in this opera of insanity and unruly passions. From his commanding opening aria ‘Lascia amor’ onwards, Zoroastro attempts to persuade the unstable hero Orlando to give up his unreciprocated passion for Angelica and return to deeds of valour. Being a wise magician, he eventually succeeds, and in Act III expresses his joy in one of the most jubilantly virtuoso arias in the bass repertory, ‘Sorge infausta’. Osmin – Mozart ’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail Inspired by Handel, Mozart created his own Zoroaster-inspired sage in Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte /The Magic Flute), whose arias ‘O Isis und Osiris’ and ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ are among opera’s noblest. The bullying harem-keeper Osmin is altogether different: his blustering aria ‘Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen’ and drunken duet ‘Vivat Bacchus!’ (both using ‘Turkish’ percussion), his futile attempts to control the spirited character Blonde and his bravura Act III rondo ‘O, wie will ich triumphieren’ (which is a must-hear due to its use of one of the lowest notes in the bass register) make him one of opera’s greatest comic villains. Méphistophélès – Gounod ’s Faust Méphistophélès’s charm, wit, and chocolate-rich bass voice – shown to best advantage in such episodes as his demure Act I entrance, zestful Act II aria ‘Le veau d’or’ and dapper seduction of Marthe Schwertlein in the Act III quartet – give him a demonic appeal. His underlying viciousness comes to the fore in his sardonic Act IV serenade to Marguerite and in the terrifying Act V trio – but this doesn’t stop us feeling that in Faust the devil has the best tunes! Philip II – Verdi ’s Don Carlo Philip II’s evolution from authoritarian ruler to suffering husband makes him perhaps Don Carlo’s most interesting character. Until the end of Act III we are inclined to dislike Philip for his tyrannical behaviour towards his wife and son. However, in his aria ‘Ella giammai m’amò!’, with its haunting introduction for solo cello, Philip laments his loneliness and his loveless marriage with a dignity, sorrow and resignation that arouse our sympathies, and that the bass voice’s rich, dark timbre makes all the more poignant. Gurnemanz – Wagner ’s Parsifal Wagner uses the sonorous richness of the bass voice to convey the wisdom and benign nature of the veteran Grail Knight Gurnemanz. This part requires tremendous stamina – Gurnemanz is on stage for the whole of the two-hour Act I and 90-minute Act III, and has several lengthy monologues. But the beauty of his music, particularly the sublime ‘Good Friday’ monologue, makes the effort more than worthwhile. Baron Ochs – Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier Strauss pulls off a near-impossible feat in his first great comedy, and creates a character who is as appealing as he is comically repellent. Ochs’s loutish entrance in Act I, boorish behaviour towards Sophie in Act II and sleazy seduction scene in Act III make us thoroughly glad when he gets his comeuppance. And yet, his warm bass voice, exuberance and the lilt of his favourite waltz in Act II give him a certain charm. Bluebeard – Bartók ’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle Bartók offers an unconventional reading of the Bluebeard story, presenting Bluebeard not as a murdering psychopath, but as a fiercely private man, who appears to love his new wife Judith but hesitates to reveal his secrets to her. Bluebeard’s mysterious vocal style – predominantly plain declamation, but with passages of tender lyricism, particularly in the heartrending final scene – makes him one of opera’s most fascinating enigmas. It is up to each singer of the role to decide how villainous, or how noble, he might be. Boris Ismailov – Shostakovich ’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk There’s no doubting the villainy of Boris Ismailov, who scolds his daughter-in-law Katerina in growling tirades, dreams of seducing her to the sounds of a sleazy waltz, brutally attacks her lover Sergey and terrifyingly returns after his death to haunt Katerina. And yet, one can’t wholly despise Boris Ismailov. As John Tomlinson , one of the role’s greatest interpreters, has remarked: ‘Boris… is completely unredeemable… but there’s something admirable about the sheer energy of the guy’. Claggart – Britten ’s Billy Budd Claggart is another great bass villain – the low, hollow sound of his voice make his mixture of brutality and Machiavellian cunning particularly terrifying. He’s not one-dimensionally evil though: his great Act I monologue ‘O beauty, handsomeness, goodness’ – which Britten’s librettist E.M. Forster considered the most ‘important piece of writing’ in the libretto – conveys emotional confusion and loneliness as well as a nihilistic compulsion to destroy what is good. Moses – Schoenberg ’s Moses und Aron Schoenberg movingly portrays Moses’s inarticulacy by writing his part entirely in growling, halting Sprechstimme (half-song, half-speech), while casting his articulate but untrustworthy brother Aron as a mellifluous lyric tenor. But the dramatic intensity and psychological complexity of Moses’s part more than compensates for its limited melodic content, particularly in the final soliloquy, which ends with the heart-breaking words ‘O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!’ (O Word, you Word that I lack!). Don Carlo runs 12–29 May 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Norwegian National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York and is sponsored by Coutts with generous philanthropic support from Ian and Tina Taylor and The Taylor Family Foundation, Aud Jebsen, Simon and Virginia Robertson, the Patrons of Covent Garden , The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover awards .
Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017! This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms. Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart. So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving (Read here what I wrote about The Formula) Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz. On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2. Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist music seem immune. See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8 Perhaps these Proms attract audiences who care what they're listening to Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant." Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8 Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9, Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled". It's Mahler, not a musical. Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5. Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest
The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself. Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to "educate, entertain and inform", the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development. Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition. Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy? The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won't tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won't be bad. But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to "launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies". Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market. It's been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well. What kind of audience is this year's Proms aimed at? Read the summary here. Sure, it's good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you're trying to sell. Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations. If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won't make up for non-product. If people really believe Scott Walker is a "Godlike genius", good for them, but don't downgrade Beethoven. Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities? Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement. There's a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC. Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them. Add a few big names - Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner - and the punters will pay. Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary. Mark non-musical anniversaries like "Reformation Day" a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history. Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention. Thus, for those who actually like music there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner "Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation" on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin's new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher's Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8 New British works - David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8), and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 - good programme).
We’ve had a quick flip through the season and come up with these unmissables: 1 Barenboim conducts Birtwistle premiere (July 16) 2 A European Requiem by James MacMillan – couldn’t be more timely (July 30) 3 William Christie conducts Handel’s Israel in Egypt (Aug 1) 4 Bychkov conducts Khovanshchina (Aug 6) 5 Rattle conducts Gurrelieder (Aug 19) 6 La Scala Orch plays Respighi (Aug 25) 7 Cincinnati plays Copland’s Lincoln Portrait – also timely (Aug 27) 8 Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for A Mad King (Sept 2) 9 Mendelssohn Day with Freiburg (Sep 3) 10 Prom 19: Relaxed Prom The BBC’s first ever Relaxed Prom is suitable for children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities as well as individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted.
Great composers of classical music