Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Haydn: Seven Last Words / Mosaiques Quartet

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

I’ve not shared anything yet for the Lenten season. In past years, I have used this opportunity to program some organ selections, but opted out of that for 2018. Here is my only programmed share for Lent this year.

The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross (German: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze) was a commission made to Joseph Haydn in 1786 for the Good Friday service at Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave Oratory) in Cádiz, Spain. Published in 1787 and performed then in Paris, Berlin and Vienna. The composer adapted it in 1787 for string quartet and in 1796 as an oratorio (with both solo and choral vocal forces), and he approved a version for solo piano.

The seven main meditative sections—labelled "sonatas" and all slow—are framed by a slow Introduction and a fast "Earthquake" conclusion, for a total of nine movements.

The long-term popularity of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words among string quartets tends to mask the fact that it was originally an orchestral work designed for performance in a specific cathedral (Cadiz) in conjunction with biblical readings and priestly meditations. Perhaps the intimacy of the quartet genre has something to do with it (four players in seven prayerful Adagios).

In my personal collection, I have a pair of quartet interpretations – one by the Lindsay quartet (complete with the prologue and epilogue sections), and another by the Emerson quartet (limited to the seven sonatas). However, as I do in the Ciover 2 Cover series, I chose a version available on YouTube by the Mosaïques quartet.

Quatuor Mosaïques may be the finest period instrument string quartet in the world – high praise from AllMusic.com. No other group (not even the old Quartetto Esterházy) comes close to the deep, mellow tone of the Quatuor Mosaïques' individual instruments (Eric Hobarth and Andrea Bischof on violins, Anita Mitterer on viola, and Christophe Coin on cello, all period instruments), and no other group (not even the new Salomon String Quartet) approaches its rich, warm ensemble sound. Most importantly, no other period instrument quartet and very few modern instrument quartets can match the Quatuor Mosaïques level of musicianship.

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze, Hob. XX:02 [op. 51]
Quatuor Mosaïques
Erich Höbarth & Andrea Bischof (Violin)
Anita Mitterer (Viola)
Christophe Coin (Cello)
Label: Naive Catalog #: 8803

IA Link - https://archive.org/details/SevenLastWordsOfChristOnTheC

Further listening – a YouTube playlist that includes all four versions of the work - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...rqcMCVCH7q6I7_

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mendelssohn in London

No. 273 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.

Last year around this time, we shared a podcast that I’d titled “Beethoven in Berlin”, where I spent some time identifying major Berlin orchestras, and featured a pair of legendary Berlin-based conductors, Ferenc Fricsay and Herbert von Karajan.

Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom and the city of London in particular is the home of several world-class ensembles, from chamber orchestras to large-scale Symphonies. Two of these are featured in today’s podcast which features two of Felix Mendelssohn’s most popular symphonic works.

Borrowing from an overview of London Orchestras I found on the web, the UK’s foremost musical pioneer with an extraordinary recording legacy, the Philharmonia Orchestra leads the field for its quality of playing and for its innovative approach to audience development, residencies, music education and the use of new technologies in reaching a global audience.

Dating back to its inception as a studio vehicle for EMI’s classical recordings, the orchestra was once helmed by Karajan, Otto Klemperer and a host of British conductors who guested at its podium on a multitude of recording projects. Today’s coupling of Sir Adrian Boult, Philharmonia and the late American violinist Michael Rabin proposes a crisp and near-reference performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, with the right amount of schmaltz.

The London Symphony Orchestra is widely regarded as one of the world's leading orchestras and is renowned for its world-class performances, its energetic and ground-breaking education and community programme, LSO Discovery. The LSO is also famous for its record and film recordings, which include John Williams’ soundtracks for the 'Star Wars' films.

At its Barbican home in the City, the LSO promotes more concerts than any other orchestra in London, and its recording label, LSO Live, is the most successful of its kind. The Orchestra's family of soloists and conductors is second to none and past chief conductors have included Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev and, most recently, Sir Simon Rattle. From 1971 to 1987, Claudio Abbado occupied the role of Principal Guest Conductor and later Principal Conductor. From that long association, a number of “complete cycles” were brought to disk, including the compete Mandelssohn symphonies, from which I retained the Scottish symphony for today’s podcast.

I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet in one act with three tableaux by Maurice Ravel described as a "symphonie chorégraphique" (lit. trans. choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from a romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD. The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé.

Commissioned for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, it premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 8 June 1912 under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux, choreography by Fokine, and Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the parts of Daphnis and Chloé.

At almost an hour long, the music (which requires a wordless SATB choir offstage) is widely regarded as some of Ravel's best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement. Even during the composer's lifetime, contemporary commentators described this ballet as his masterpiece for orchestra.

Ravel later extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites; the second of the suites, which includes much of the third tableau and concludes with the "Danse générale", is particularly popular.


A lot of the stuff I share here and my other platforms is planned for and prepared long in advance, and I’ve had this specific performance in the queue as it were for several months, predating some of the recent news about one of its main architects. Because of this very particular situation, I need to somehow provide a bit of an explanation – and disclaimer.

Years ago, I remember a very heated discussion among American Football fans around a particular linebacker who had shall I say a less-than-stellar off-field reputation involving the usual sex, drugs and domestic violence. In 1999, when Lawrence Taylor became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there were some concerns that his hard-partying lifestyle and drug abuse would hurt his candidacy. These concerns proved to be ill-founded, however, as he was voted in on the first ballot. The feeling at the time was that Taylor should be judged for his work on the field, and not for his off-field antics.

Maybe things would be different today, in the age of the #MeToo movement.

A television commentator asked recently whether or not we should still watch Kevin Spacey films, or listen to opera recordings featuring James Levine. It is a fair question indeed, and one which came up when I had to decide whether or not I should still program the much-lauded performance of Daphnis with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under Charles Dutoit’s artistic direction.

(Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I won’t discuss here the allegations that recently surfaced about the Swiss maestro and his off-stage behaviour. I cannot defend the indefensible, and won’t.)

The way I see it, notwithstanding Dutoit’s galvanizing vision of the work, this landmark recording is the result of outstanding technical achievements (kudos to the record producer Ray Minshull and lead sound engineer John Dunkerley), unforgettable playing by the orchestra’s principal flutist Timothy Hutchins, painstaking preparation by long-serving chorus master René Lacourse and, of course, puts in full display the virtuosity of the 80-plus members of the orchestra. It would be a shame to throw umbrage on their fine work simply because of the misdeeds of one person who happened to lead the orchestra at the podium and provided support during post-production with the technical team at London-Decca.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Please enjoy what in my mind is the reference recording of Ravel’s masterpiece.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé, MR 57
ballet in one act and three parts for orchestra and mixed chorus (without words)

Timothy Hutchins, solo flute
Choeurs de l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
(René Lacourse, chorus master)
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Charles Dutoit, conducting
Recording Location: St. Eustache, August 1980
London Records ‎– LDR 71028
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Released: 1981
Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros; JUNO Award – Canada; Prix mondial du disque de Montreux; Grand Prix du Disque – Canada; Japan Record Academy Award
Record details - https://www.discogs.com/Ravel-Ch%C5%...elease/3282006

Internet Archivehttps://archive.org/details/01DaphnisEtChloBalletEnUnAc

Friday, February 23, 2018

Classical Keyboard

No. 272 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


This week’s podcast completes our look at some of the great composers of the Classical era, with a specific focus on solo piano music.

The piano sonata occupies a large portion of the podcast, and for good reason. Like many “formulaic” works – the symphony comes to mind – the sonata finds its well-recognized structure under composers like Mozart, Haydn and later Beethoven and Schubert. Prior to the classical period, we can point to the many keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti as indicative of the sonata “in one movement” Another champion of the genre  was Padre Antonio Soler, a Spanish composer whose works span the late Baroque and early Classical music eras. He was an important contribution to the harpsichord, fortepiano and organ repertoire.

Padre Soler's most celebrated works are his keyboard sonatas, which are comparable to those composed by Scarlatti (with whom he may have studied). However, Soler's works are more varied in form than those of Scarlatti, with some pieces in three or four movements; Scarlatti's pieces are in one or two movements. Soler's sonatas were catalogued in the early twentieth century by Fr. Samuel Rubio and so all have 'R' numbers assigned. Today’s podcast opens with a few of Soler’s sonatas played on a modern piano.

Influenced by Scarlatti's harpsichord school and Haydn's classical school and by the stile galante of Johann Christian Bach and Ignazio Cirri, Muzio Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists, including John Field, Johann Baptist Cramer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Carl Czerny – many of these names were featured in recent podcasts He was a notable influence on Ludwig van Beethoven. Clementi also produced and promoted his own brand of pianos and was a notable music publisher.

Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas; some of the earlier and easier ones were later classified as sonatinas after the success of his Sonatinas Op. 36. However, most of Clementi's sonatas are more difficult to play than those of Mozart, who wrote in a letter to his sister that he would prefer her not to play Clementi's sonatas due to their jumped runs, and wide stretches and chords, which he thought might ruin the natural lightness of her hand.

Schubert's Impromptus are a series of eight pieces for solo piano composed in 1827. They were published in two sets of four impromptus each, catalogued as D. 899 and D. 935 respectively. They are considered to be among the most important examples of this popular early 19th-century genre.

Today’s podcast features the second set. As the first and last pieces in this set are in the same key (F minor), and the set bears some resemblance to a 4-movement sonata, these Impromptus have been accused of being a sonata in disguise, notably by Robert Schumann and Alfred Einstein. However, this claim has been disputed by contemporary musicologists such as Charles Fisk, who established important differences between the set of Impromptus and Schubert's acknowledged multi-movement works. It is also believed that the set was originally intended to be a continuation of the previous set, as Schubert originally numbered them as Nos. 5–8.

I think you will love this music too.