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Benjamin Britten

Friday, August 26, 2016


parterre box

August 1

To each word a warbling note

parterre boxThe notion of doing a cut-and-paste job on a Shakespeare play to create an opera libretto may drive you to think, “What fools these mortals be!” But when Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears turned their editing pencils to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1960, something magical resulted. I am a longtime Britten fan, having been exposed to a black-and-white telecast of Peter Grimes in the 1960s, and can remember the premiere of Owen Wingrave, an opera written specifically for television (which I find to be a vastly underrated work now that I’ve had the opportunity to see it staged). So how is it that it took me so long to discover the innumerable joys of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Despite what Wikipedia says about the opera becoming a virtual instantaneous addition to the standard repertoire (a rather UK-centric view, I dare say), it did not reach the Met till November 1996. The winter of 1996/1997 was a dark time for me personally, so it was easy to overlook the eight performances given to the company’s first production. By the time it was revived, I was no longer living in America. I first saw the opera at Volksoper Wien in 2002, sung in German which sort of defeated the purpose, but I fell under the spell of its score on the spot. It also gave me the opportunity to hear the great Jochen Kowalski at the end of his career as a rather shaky Oberon. When Philippe Arlaud’s wondrous production was revived in 2006, it was finally performed in English, a further revelation for me. The cast featured many young ensemble members who have moved on to international careers (Elisabeth Kuhlman and Daniel Behle among them). But the crowning glory was the spoken role of Puck performed by Karl Markovics, a stage and screen actor known throughout the world for his starring role of Sorowitsch in Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. This week’s performance comes to us from last summer’s Festival d’Aix-en-Provence which includes in its cast Lawrence Zazzo, Sandrine Piau, Leyla Claire, Brindley Sherratt, and as Puck the actor Miltos Yerolemou, whose résumé includes roles in Game of Thrones and the most recent Star Wars film. If you know Britten only through his most popular operas – Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, and The Turn of the Screw – be prepared for a totally new sound palette, one which features the comic antics of the rude mechanicals (including the drag role – written for Pears – of Thisbe, who gets to sing a parody of a Donizetti mad scene), and the most sensuous, gorgeous music Britten ever wrote, for the four mismatched lovers. So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Jungfer Marianne shall restore amends! Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Trinity Boys’ Choir Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon Kazushi Ono, conductor Théâtre de l’Archevêché Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 07 July 2015 Oberon – Lawrence Zazzo Tytania – Sandrine Piau Puck – Miltos Yerolemou Lysander – Rupert Charlesworth Demetrius – John Chest Hermia – Elizabeth DeShong Helena – Leyla Claire Thesus – Scott Conner Hippolyta – Allyson McHardy Bottom – Brindley Sherratt Quince – Henry Waddington Flute – Michael Slattery Snug – Brian Bannatyne-Scott Snout – Christopher Gillett Starveling – Simon Butteriss Post scriptum: If you missed it, on Thursday I uploaded last week’s opening day performance of Parsifal from Bayreuth. You can find it at https://www.mixcloud.com/Jungfer_Marianne_Leizmetzerin/

Meeting in Music

August 22

The RIAS-Kammerchor sings Britten, Elgar and others

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) Frederick Delius (1862-1934) Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) Songs RIAS-Kammerchor, Marcus Creed Harmonia Mundi HMC 901734 (2002) [flac, cue, log, scans]




Tribuna musical

August 3

“Roméo et Juliette”: the Berlioz masterpiece finally returns

1973, a terrible year: four presidents, turmoil. And the Colón reprograms after the well-founded resignation of Enzo Valenti Ferro (the Mayor had closed down arbitrarily the German season). Antonio Pini was the new Artistic Director, and I his assistant. Along with the conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Pedro Calderón, we programmed a rich season with eminent conductors and valid premières. In August Pini was summarily fired and the successors played havoc on the Phil´s programming. But in June and July we had Serge Baudo and Vaclav Smetácek. You may wonder, why this bit of history? Because it is relevant to the purpose of this article. Years before I was bowled over by the revelation of "Roméo et Juliette" by Hector Berlioz in the splendid interpretation on record by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. I knew that Baudo was a specialist on this composer (he ran the Lyons Berlioz festival), so I telexed him asking if he wanted to première the complete "Roméo" (only symphonic fragments had been played here); he accepted enthusiastically, and the première became the highlight of the symphonic year. I keep as a treasure my Eulenburg score : "En toute amitié" ("With all friedship"), Serge Baudo, 28.5.73. A particular homage to Jorge Fontenla, now in his eighties: always a noble server of music as pianist, composer and conductor, some months before the Baudo event Fontenla premièred "Roméo" in Argentina with the Cuyo University Symphony; and he had the bonhomie of lending the orchestral parts to the Phil for the Baudo preformances. We had to wait 43 years before an artist and a programmer decided that it was high time to let this generation hear live one of the great works of Romanticism. Facundo Agustín, an Argentine working in Switzerland, showed his mettle last year in Britten´s "War Requiem", so we knew that he was technically capable of the arduous commitment, for "Roméo" is very difficult; and Ciro Ciliberto, the National Symphony´s programmer, has proved his knowledge of the repertoire many times. A big thanks to both. "Roméo et Juliette" was called by the composer "dramatic symphony"; with words by Émile Deschamps derived from the Shakespeare tragedy, Berlioz conducted it at the Paris Conservatory November 24, 1839. The dedication is to Nicolò Paganini. It is, in words of its creator, "neither an opera in concert form nor a cantata, but a symphony with chorus" (and soloists). "The symphony has a general plan of four movements with a Prologue as a vocal introduction to the first" (John Burk). Berlioz, the quintessential Romantic, mixed life with creation and nowhere was it more evident than in "Roméo et Juliette", for he fell in love with actress Harriet Smithson playing Juliet and married her! A Shakespeare fan, he also wrote the overture "King Lear" and his opera "Béatrice et Bénédict" based on "Much Ado About Nothing". "Roméo et Juliette" is his Op.17 and lasts about 95 minutes. There´s nothing like it in the repertoire: Berlioz was a true visionary, with no antecedent and no followers. Many believe that giantism in symphonic music is a thing of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but they forget Berlioz: he asks for 250 performers, including three choirs, and his orchestration is ample and innovative. His aural imagination is limitless and the intensity of his expression has no rivals in French music. Each piece has titles that explain their content; thus, the Introduction at the very beginning depicts in fugato form the combats of Capulets and Montagus, the ensuing tumult and the intervention of the Prince. The soloists are a contralto that sings of the vows of the lovers, a scintillating Scherzetto for the tenor (Mercutio´s Queen Mab speech), and especially Friar Lawrence with his strong plea in the Finale for reconciliation. The choirs can be recitatives, light revelry in the distance, or powerful vocal battles. The jewels are purely symphonic: the Introduction, "Romeo alone- Sadness- the Capulets´ Ball", the "Love scene" (the composer´s favorite), the marvelous Queen Mab Scherzo with uncanny orchestral effects, and the huge contrasts of "Romeo at the Tomb of the Capulets". French orchestral music won´t produce scores of this quality until the arrival of Debussy and Ravel. Fortunately the work was presented twice at the Blue Whale, July 27 and 29; I went to the first date; it was a success with the packed audience. Agudín got a notable performannce out of a concentrated National Symphony, with close respect for every indication in the score; his temperament is contained and I missed the whitehot intensity of Munch, but it was clean and precise. Not only some soloists were fine (the oboist Andrés Spiller) but, e.g., it was a pleasure to hear the first violins play with such unanimity in perfect tune. The Coro Polifónico Nacional was this time prepared by an Argentine who lives in France, Ariel Alonso; he distributed the choirs at the back of the orchestra and at the laterals, and a small group was with the orchestra on the right side. The results were uneven but the best moments were satisfactory. Hernán Iturralde was a first-rate Friar Lawrence, sung with magisterial command and fine French. Alejandra Malvino did her "Strophes" musically and Ricardo González Dorrego negotiated his tricky Scherzetto with skill. A serious blot: no comments on the score in tha hand programme, and no supertitles! For Buenos Aires Herald



The Boston Musical Intelligencer

July 29

Great Danes Ponder Musical Questions

On hearing an ensemble for the first time, a critic tries to descry its distinctive qualities. We’re unlikely in this golden era to hear a string quartet with inadequate technique, but more likely to hear one that is indistinguishable from its peers. In business since 2002 and with the current personnel since 2008, the well-respected Danish String Quartet added the Borletti Buitoni Trust Award to its collection of prizes last February, and just issued its debut disc on ECM. In Ozawa Hall Thursday night, the quartet revealed its essential character from the start. Here was a uniform foursome that produced a creamy tone through a smooth legato without a touch of grittiness—more genial Victor Borge than warlike Erik the Red. To these ears in row R, though, the projection seemed a bit wan, as if coming through slanting late afternoon rays in a cold climate. Composer Per Nørgård tells us that his 1952 Quartet No. 1, Quartetto breve, “has a firm root in the Nordic tradition and is strongly inspired by Jean Sibelius and my teacher Vagn Holmboe;” in his initial venture into the quartet genre, he makes much of his infinity series (Uendelighedsrækken), which, according to reports, serializes melody, harmony, and rhythm in musical composition in the endlessly self-similar nature of the resulting musical material. The brief piece’s seven minutes of developing factorializations seemed to ponder, as would Mendelssohn later in the program, “Is it true?” Arguments ensued, sometimes becoming emphatic and assertive. At one point the cello launched an abortive fugal discussion before general agreement returned in the form of a 50s dance of death. Later, the first slashed out over accompanying pizzes. A Beethovenian cadence brought down the curtain on a work that played to the ensemble’s strengths of uniformity, unanimity, and poise. Violinists Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin succeeded less well in Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13 (Ist es Wahr?). Not so metaphysical as the name suggests, and posing no questions on the meaning of life, it rather quotes the opening notes of the composer’s lovesong, “Frage ,” which asks: Is it true? Is it true that over there in the leafy walkway, you always wait for me by the vine-draped wall? Written by an 18-year-old Felix scant months after the death of Beethoven, and citing the last movement of Op. 135 string quartet “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?), it is often performed in pairing with a late quartet of that earlier master. Because Mendelssohn wrote it during a time in his life when hormones flowed dramatically, it rewards an open-hearted interpretation with more potent surgings than the restrained and sonically meager enlightenment take that the Danes delivered to my distant seat. The organ-like opening promised drama, but the players delivered dignity and probity instead, overlooking the deepest emotions. Their over-legato technique could have benefited from more variety of articulation and a more generous resort to grittiness when the writing demands more agonizing. The Danish String Quartet at Ozawa hall (Hilary Scott photo) Beethoven’s Quartet No. 12 in E-flat, Major Op. 127, the first of his late ones, opens with a grand Maestoso which the quartet enrobed in broad soulfulness, projecting their biggest sound of the night. But as the large work unfolded, they stinted on the angularity of Beethoven’s crazy stops and starts, making the rough places decidedly too plain. When they did dig-in, intonation suffered, especially from the first. Perhaps if I heard the group at the much smaller and more resonant Maverick, where they are playing the same concert on Sunday, the presentation would convey more intensity, but in this outing Beethoven felt tame, notey, over-metric, yet strangely slurred withal. To an encore of Carl Nielsen’s settings of three traditional Danish songs, Min Jesus lad mit hjerte fa, Scenk kun dit hoved du Blomst, and Tit er jeg (arranged by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen for the quartet and evocative of Britten’s “The Water is Wide”), they brought a revival-tent warmth and imploring advocacy. Amen. Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer. The post Great Danes Ponder Musical Questions appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

Benjamin Britten
(1913 – 1976)

Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913 - 4 December 1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. Showing prodigious talent from an early age – he composed his Quatre Chansons françaises for soprano and orchestra at the age of fourteen – he first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945 Britten leapt to international fame, and for the next fifteen years he devoted much of his compositional attention to writing operas, several of which now appear regularly on international stages. Britten's interests as a composer were wide-ranging; he produced important music in such varied genres as orchestral, choral, solo vocal (much of it written for the tenor Peter Pears), chamber and instrumental, as well as film music. Britten also took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers, and was considered a fine pianist and conductor.



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