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Hector Berlioz

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Classical iconoclast

December 1

Death or Liberty ? Gossec Grande Messe des Morts

Classical iconoclast François-Xavier Roth conducted François Joseph Gossec's Grande Messe des morts with Les Siècles and the Weiner Singakademie last week min Vienna, now broadcast on BBC Radio 3. . Since Roth conducted an astonishing Berlioz Grand Messe des morts at the Royal Albert Hal, London,two weeks ago (please read my review here), this is a good opportunity to hear both Requiems by the same conductor, whose expertise in French repertoire is unequalled, as fluent in early music as he is in the contemporary avant garde, Roth's insights are always refreshing. Gossec (1734-1829), a protege of Rameau, was, in his own way as innovative as Rameau was in his own time, as as Berlioz was to become in the future.  His Grande Messe, written in 1761,is a forward-facing, youthful work which, upon publication twenty years later caught the spirit of a France on the verge of revolutionary change.  It's inspired bynthe spirit of Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu, all of whom were his contemporaries. Gossec's Grand Messe begins with assertive, almost explosive chords, taken up by a livelier melody on pipes and strings, Berlioz's Grand Messe, with its mysterious, searching lines seems almost "modern" in a kind of 20th century ambiguity. Yet Gossec isn't writing faux pastoral.  The confident airs give way to a sophisticated Introitus in three parts, grave, allegro and largo, where voices weave intricate patterns, individual voices kept clear and bright.  The mood is vibrant.  The female soloists dominate (in Vienna, Chantal Santon-Jeffry and Anaik More).  Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly at all, I kept thinking of Marianne , her breasts exposed, leading the nation to Liberty.  Peasant girl as antithesis to King and the Virgin Mary. Breaking the link between Church and State was a founding principle of the Republic. No wonder Gossec's Grande Messe captured the public mood. The deceased here will not die will be remembered in glory. "Requiem aeternum " and "et lux perpetua" aren't mere worrds, but inspire the two graduale that follow : uplifting choral pieces that move briskly. Berlioz integrates choir and orchestra with greater complexity but Gossec has brio.  While Berlioz's Dies Irae is hushed and sombre, Gosec;s Dies Irae is angular, with a distinctive motif of sharply accentuated rhythms. His Tuba mirium blasts with the baleful force of massed trumpets, the "tuba" here referring to the Trumpets which will sound at the end of time, waking the dead.  Again, Gossec uses a solo voice, not a choir.  Because Gossec's Grande Messe evolves over no less than 24 parts, each sequence is relative short, and highly varied Some sections are for solo voice and orchestra, others for combined soloists and orchestra, others for choir and orchestra.  This diversity generates momentum and energy, which comes naturally to Roth and a period ensemble Les Siècles. No surprise that Gossec's Grande Messe is their speciality. They've been doing it for some time.The photo above comes from their performance in October 2013 at the Chapelle Royale in Paris, which was broadcast on French TV and radio. Rumour has it that it will be released on CD.  Definitely a must-buy since that performance is much more vivacious and spirited than the Vienna version.  After the Amen, a short break before the Vado et non revertar, an unusual interjection into a Mass, coming as it does from the pre Christian Book of Job, though it links to the idea of resurrection. The staccato patterns heard earlier (as in the Dies Irae), but with the Pie Jesu, the dead are granted rest.  Everyone's singing together again, and the final Requiem Aeternum draws everything together.  Berlioz's Grande Messe des morts  is grander in every way, reflecting a new era when Europe was on the cusp of a new urbanized, industrial era. Gossec's not too bothered about complex orchestration and large scale forces so much as freedom of spirit.  Besides,mhis Grande Mess des morts harks back to the period that made modernity possible in the first place. BTW Gossec was not Belgian. Belgium didn't exist as an independent monarchy before 1830.

My Classical Notes

November 15

Elina Garanca’s Heroines

I bring you today a new recording by an excellent mezzo soprano, rather than by an orchestra, a string player, or a pianist. It is time for a change… Ha, ha… Her name is Elīna Garanča. This amazing singer explores the emotional storms raging in the lives of opera’s strong women with her new DG album ‘Revive’. Here are the titles: Berlioz: Ah! Je vais mourir (from Les Troyens) Cilea: Acerba volutta (from Adriana Lecouvreur) Ecco: respiro appena. Io son l’umile ancella (from Adriana Lecouvreur) Leoncavallo: È destin… (from La Bohème) Mascagni: Voi lo sapete o mamma (from Cavalleria rusticana) Massenet: Ne me refuse pas (from Hérodiade) Va! Laisse couler mes larmes (from Werther) Mussorgsky: Skushno Marina! (from Boris Godunov) Ponchielli: Stella del marinar!… È un anatema (from La Gioconda) Saint-Saëns: Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse (Samson et Dalila) Reine! Je serai reine! (from Henry VIII) Thomas, Ambroise: Connais-tu le pays (from Mignon) Verdi: Nei giardin del bello saracin ostello ‘Veil Song’ (from Don Carlo) Cor de la Comunitat Valenciana Rataplan, rataplan, della gloria (from La forza del destino) Cor de la Comunitat Valenciana All selections are performed by Elīna Garanča (mezzo), with the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Roberto Abbado conducting. Presto Classical wrote the following: “Each of these complex and diverse women spring to life fully formed and meticulously differentiated, and you never get the sense that she’s using every item in her new technical tool-box for its own sake…And what a chest-voice!” Here is Ms. Garanca in Chanson from Boheme:




Classical iconoclast

November 14

Berlioz Grande Messe des morts - F X Roth Royal Albert Hall

There's a place for Over The Top Berlioz, and the Royal Albert Hall, London was made for over the top, and This Berlioz Grand Messe des Morts op 5, 1837, is more grandoise than most. Neither pious nor penitent, Berlioz's Requiem defies reverence and reticence. It packs a punch, and part of that punch is aimed against convention.  This performance brought out what made Berlioz so individual, very "modern" in his use of instrumental colour. The words may be religious, but Berlioz's God was, perhaps, himself.  That very audacity is what makes the Grand Messe grand. Conductor François-Xavier Roth did not stint on statement.  The BBC Symphony Orchestra stretched to the max : Sixteen  timpani, ten pairs of cymbals,  twelve horns, four tubas, four bands of brass instruments and 18 double basses - dwarfing the usual most composers settle for.  Three large choirs : The BBC Symphony Chorus, the London Philharmonic Choir and the Crouch End Chorus and at the top, like a defiant angel, Toby Spence whose clarion cut across the tumult before him.   In a small performance place, you'd risk going deaf.  Fortunately, the Royal Albert Hall is big enough to absorb impact, and on BBC Radio3, the balance is even better.  Listen to the rebroadcast with speakers on loud.   Perceptively, Roth began quietly, the massed voices of the choruses at first hushed, then bursting forth "Requiem ! Requiem !", then receding, enriched by the bank of basses and violas.  So many voices, yet so perfectly together, such crispness of attack, such unity !  This precision liberated the inner rhythms in the lines, so the phrases moved with athletic energy. The first fanfare shone with vivid brightness. The Introit ended with in glorious tumult, yet Roth kept the colours clear : I thought of flags, flying, and bright, vivid colours undimmed.  The Dies Irae was suitably hushed : it's a feat to keep so many voices together in close formation, without sacrificing clarity. But Berlioz doesn't stay somnolent. "Rex! Rex! tremendae !" marked with pointed brass exclamation points.  TYet again, Roth used volume purposefully, not for mere noise value.  Excellent tension between moments of high excitement and more reflective minor key passages, like the Lacyrmosa, where the voices hovered, the interplay between male and female voices sustaining contrast.  Vast as the orchestral forces may be, Roth employed them deftly, underlining but not overwhelming the voices.  The grand brass gestures exploded, the timpani pounded, always in step with the musical line. Not noise for the sake of noise but a remarkably cohesive, as a good processional should be. "Domine, Domine". The Offertory sounded haunted, for at this point in the Mass,  the souls of the departed seek deliverance. Now the orchestra takes the lead, the"voice" of God in deep, resonant lines that pulsate, the quivering figures taken up by the strings, purposefully, I believe, for this is an evocation of a heartbeat, as if each soul were one to one with the Creator.  Vast chords led by brass  introduce the Hostias.  Roth's assertive approach made me think of Messaien, who could shape blocks of dense sound so they swell up, referencing the cataclysm at the End of Time in which the Earth will be rent asunder. When Toby Spence's clear, firm tenor rang out in the Sanctus, I felt a shiver, remembering how fortunate we are to have Spence at all.  Unless one has faced the Chasm perhaps one doesn't appreciate the miracle of life.  Conventional religion doesn't have a monopoly on the feelings expressed. When Spence sang the "Glorias" his voice softened, deepening slightly, suggesting humility. The Hosannas rang out fervently.  Triumph over death is not a given, so rejoice  when it happens.  Again, the great planes of brass sounded forth, the "last trumpets" prophesied in the Book of Revelation.  Roth emphasized the silences through which the Agnus Dei proceeds : powerhouses of sound  alternating with stillness. The choirs sang reverently, for at this point in a Requiem Mass, one contemplates the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  Translated into non Christian terms, this could mean sacrifice for higher spiritual ideals.  Hence the tenderness with which the choirs sang, and the deliberate, but not moribund traverse. As the timpani rumbled, we near a destination. This is what a Requiem is and should be:  a moment when we face mortality.  Perhaps there is redemption, perhaps not, but at least we've thought about what it might mean. All conductors employ silences at the end of performances. Sometimes it's cliché. François-Xavier Roth is an extremely intelligent and strong minded personality.  He doesn't do things for show.  After this emotional and artistic workout, silence was a physical necessity. We couldn't otherwise return to the world outside. 



Guardian

November 6

SCO/Ticciati review – expansive, revelatory Bruckner

City Halls, Glasgow Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra lent limpid refinement to Bruckner’s unrelentingly heavy Teutonic stodge in a compact concert“Symphonic boa constrictors” is how Brahms famously slated Bruckner’s symphonies. A century and a half of might-is-right Brucknerian performance practice taught us to brace for august cathedrals of sound if we’re lucky, bloated juggernauts of Teutonic stodge if we’re not. But does this music have to be unrelentingly hefty? Various conductors have asked the question. Robin Ticciati has made a habit of redressing big romantic orchestral works through the neat, lithe lens of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – together they’ve unveiled ravishing colours in Berlioz and Brahms and now Bruckner, making his fourth symphony sound all sorts of un-Brucknerian adjectives like limpid, refined, nimble, inquisitive. Maybe it helped that the concert was inadvertently compact: the opening piece, Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto, was dropped at the last minute when soloist Maurice Bourgue was taken ill, leaving Bruckner alone on the bill. Funny how a single-work programme works wonders for concentration spans. And it wasn’t that Ticciati took tempos any faster than normal or did novelty things with the overall architecture – in fact, he made the pacing fairly expansive from the outset and took his time unfolding themes with a sense of exploratory awe. What was revelatory was the subtle textural stuff. The strings opened with a light-refracting shimmer; the solo lines of the bittersweet andante were tender and questioning, the Scherzo bounced along like pond skaters. In the finale the strings unleashed thick downbows for a moment, as though parodying classic Bruckner, reminding us of all that this performance was not. Continue reading...

Hector Berlioz
(1803 – 1869)

Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803 – March 8, 1869) was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts (Requiem). Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a conductor, he performed several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. He also composed around 50 songs. His influence was critical for the further development of Romanticism, especially in composers like Richard Wagner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and many others.



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