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Hector Berlioz

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Classical iconoclast

Yesterday

Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Classical iconoclast 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     

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

April 19

A rare sighting of a new opera recording

Erato tell us they have spent the last three days recording Berlioz’s Les Troyens in Strasbourg. It involved the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, three choirs and sixteen soloists over two five-hour concerts with conductor John Nelson, a total of 239 musicians. The headline artists are the US mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Michael Spyres and the French-Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. The set will be released in November. Photo: Grégory Massat/Erato




Classical iconoclast

April 7

Walter Braunfels Ulenspiegel on DVD

For the first time on DVD, Walter Braunfels' opera Ulenspiegel is now available. Braunfels's op 23 received its premiere in Stuttgart in November 1913. Two world wars intervened. Braunfels's Ulenspiegel was not performed again until 2011, as part of the Gera Festival.  An audio recording is available of that performance, conducted by Jens Tröster. This new DVD comes from the Linz Festival in 2014, and is conducted by Martin Sieghart, known for his recordings with the Bruckner Orchester Linz. Braunfels' Ulenspiegel is based on Uilenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak, by Charles de Coster (1867), which Braunfels would have known in the German translation published in 1910. Coster was a child when Belgium became independent from the northern Netherlands.  Coster understood the tensions that led to the 1830 revolution. Coster's Ulenspiegel does not follow the Ulenspiegel of medieval tradition, popular throughout northern central Europe. Instead, Coster quite pointedly turns Ulenspiegel into a hero of the Dutch wars of independence from Spain, and pits Ulenspiegel against the Duke of Alba, whose draconian policies of suppression inflamed revolt.  As a French speaker and a Catholic, Coster would have been well aware of the irony. In the 17th century, the Dutch fought off Counter-Reformatioin  Spain.  In 1830,  Dutch Protestants  opposed Belgian (and Catholic) freedom. This background is fundamental to understanding the opera.  Braunfels knew Richard Strauss Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895). Like Coster before him, Braunfels' Ulenspiegel was a completely different personality, clothed in medieval disguise.   The "merry pranks" here have purpose. Even at this early period in Braunfels' career, the underlying rationale behind his music is clear.  All his life, Braunfels  opposed militarism and fascism.  This is vital to the interpretation of his music.  His lush orchestrations are not in the least "romantic" in Hollywood terms. Rather, Braunfels is a Romantic in the true spirit of the revolution which transformed European culture, forging individualism and self-determination. Ulenspiegel escapes prison but there's no happy ending. The Linz production of Braunfels' Ulenspiegel took place in the Tabakfabrik, a disused factory. Hence the post-industrial set. Ulenspiegel and his friends are underclass.  The caravan they live in reminds us that mobility, physical ot social, is denied to the "peasants" of modern society.   There is nothing pretty about situations where the privileged can exploit the gullible with promises of Heaven, bought through Indulgences.  If the performance space is bleak, it fits meaning. Moreover, the Israel Chamber Orchestra are visible at all times, reminding us that opera is theatre, and music is art. The version of the score used here is an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Werner Steinmetz (2014) which makes performance more practical and requires a smaller chorus.  The essentials are retained. If anything, the percussion sounds even more hollow and ominous echoing in the open space of the Tabakfabrik, and the winds sound haunting. Though textures are less rich, they feel hardier - more "Dutch" than "Spanish". Although the EntArte Opera Choir sing well,  the relatively small ensemble doesn't quite give the impact of a vast force in uproar. On the other hand, the focus is greater on individual parts.  Marc Horus sings Ulenspiegel, capturing the prankster's rebellious spirit. When Ulenspiegel's energies are channelled purposefully, he becomes a genuine hero, rather than fool  as hero.  On film, we can also focus on detail. Close-ups are rewarding.  Ulenspiegel's father, Klas, sung by Hans Peter Scheidegger, is vividly characterized, though the role is killed off fairly early in the plot.  Christa Ratzenböck sings a strong Nele, Ulenspiegel's foster sister and lover. This DVD is welcome, but you do also need the  Tröster.CD version from 2011 for the full score. Neither performance is ideal, so I hope the opera gets done again soon, with better resources and an understanding of Braunfels'  idiom, on the level of Lothar Zagrosek's Die Vögel, (1997) so outstanding that all others pale before it. Ulenspiegel is a good opera, but what we really need is a decent recording of Der Traum ein Leben  which was done in Bonn not long ago. the only recording on the market is so badly recorded that it's unlistenable. Please also see a few of my other reviews of the works of Walter Braunfels: Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs vol 1 Hansjörg Albrecht Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2 Hansjörg Albrecht Salzburg Braunfels : Medievalism as modernity (Jeanne d'Arc) Walter Braunfels : Jeanne d'Arc, Szenen aus dem Lebem der Heiligen Johanna Gothic Resistance Fighter : Walter Braunfels Die Verkündigung  Walter Braunfels : Fantastiche Erscheinungen eines Thema von Hector Berlioz Walter Braunfels : Lieder



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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