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Classical music and opera by Classissima

Tabea Zimmermann

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Tribuna musical

December 1

The world of symphony orchestras now expands to China

Tribuna musical Of course, it was only a matter of time before Chinese orchestras started arriving to our city, although they existed even during Mao tse Tung´s regime: I certify that Beijing had an orchestra in 1962 that played such Occidental authors like Sibelius, along with Chinese composers. But the ironically called Cultural Revolution wiped them out for a long period. However, the almost miraculous reversal engineered by Deng Hsiao Ping gradually opened the immense country; musically this is recounted in that indispensable film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart". Orchestras re-formed and others were created; and in 1999 Hong Kong became part of China, including its notable Philharmonic that has left so many fine recordings (they would be welcome visitors to BA). Changes take time, and it was only last year that a Shanghai Orchestra came here (a promised Beijing one didn´t materialize). And now we had the visit of the Qingdao Symphony. How many Argentines know something about this city? I didn´t, and I went to Google, for the programme gave me no information, except biographies of the interpreters and the listing of the players. They gave two concerts at the CCK¨s Blue Whale, the first combining China with the Occident, the second almost purely Chinese; I attended the first, missing two initial pieces due to a traffic jam (sounds familiar?). It turns out that Qingdao is a big port in the Province of Shandong with a population of around 6 million; German colony from 1891 to 1904, twice invaded by Japan and recuperated in 1949; it now has five universities. The Orchestra was re-established in 2005; its current Director is Zhang Guoyong (Herald readers may recall my review of his debut concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic this year, praising him in a difficult programme of Zimmermann and Prokofiev). Eighty players came in this tour, all with purely Chinese surnames. This people is gregarious and disciplined; on the evidence of this concert, the players have been carefully selected and are fully professional, and thoroughly trained by such a proficient conductor they gave first-rate performances of all the programmed pieces. As I wrote concerning other Chinese composers´ works played in BA (not many) I believe that the Occidental orchestra isn´t the right instrument for what remains a profoundly different culture. You do hear some pleasant pentatonic tunes but the orchestrations are showy and bombastic and the structures are haphazard. The pieces I heard both concerned concubines as they are depicted in Beijing Opera, as far from the European conception of the genre as possible in voice and instrumentation: voices are supposed to be used with extreme nasality and artifice, and there are very few players. The long symphonic fantasy "Goodbye, my concubine", by Guan Xia, suddenly includes a song; and then we heard a symphonic arrangement of a melody from Beijing Opera´s "The inebriated concubine". Zhang Ying, attired in colorful traditional clothes, sang both, in a way that decidedly for Occidentals is an acquired taste (if you do acquire it). But it is a matter of training: soprano Song Yuanming studied at Vienna and sang our opera and operetta with an agreeable voice of clean highs: the Waltz from Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" and the Csardas from Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus"; when she finished the First Part with a Chinese melody, "I love you, China", by Zheng Quiufeng and Qu Zong, she sang like an European. The Second Part was occupied by the most famous cantata of the Twentieth Century, Carl Orff´s "Carmina Burana", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional led by Darío Marchese, soprano Song Wuanming, baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and countertenor Pehuén Díaz Bruno. The rhythmic vitality and melodic charm of this celebration of Medieval love and wine dressed in modern clothes has seldom sounded so full and precise. The Choir was in fine shape, potent, in tune and exact; the Orchestra responded brilliantly to Guoyong´s commanding baton; and the soloists were well chosen, from the firmness of Wuanming´s highest register to the intelligent interpretation of Meerapfel and the adequacy of the countertenor singing the strange predicament of the roasting goose. How would this orchestra and conductor fare in, say, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, is anyone´s guess, for all I heard from them was lavishly colorful; anyway, they certainly have the right technical tools. The style? Maybe. For Buenos Aires Herald

Guardian

November 27

CPE Bach: Der Frühling CD review – excellent, tight-knit playing

Café Zimmermann, Rupert Charlesworth (tenor) (Alpha Classics)Zimmermann’s cafe was the scene of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum concerts during the 1730s, and it is easy to imagine the talented Carl Philipp Emanuel being presented along with his younger siblings by their proud father, Johann Sebastian. Most of the music here dates from later in Emanuel’s European career, and it ranges fascinatingly from the bold and eccentric in the A minor Sinfonia, to the sweet and sentimental in the songs and arias that give the disc its title. A middle course is steered by a B flat Trio Sonata and a lively Sonatina with horns and (too reticent) harpsichord. Excellent, tight-knit playing by the eponymous cafe players. Continue reading...






Classical iconoclast

September 5

Musikfest Berlin 2016 Wolfgang Rihm Tutuguri

As the BBC Proms at last flicker into life, in Germany the Musikfest Berlin gets under way.. Over 19 days, 27 events featuring 70 works of around 35 composers, performed by 20 orchestras, instrumental and vocal ensembles and soloists. Full programme here, reflecting the concept that audiences are mature enough to handle real music, as Sir Henry Wood believed a hundred years ago, instead of the Potato Fudge the Proms have descended into this year (bar a few outstanding performances). But those of us who can't get to Berlin (largely sold out, in any case), some concerts will be broadcast via the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall (List here)  Listen live, because the broadcasts may be available for only 24 hours. On Saturday I caught Wolfgang Rihm's  Tutuguri with Daniel Harding and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.  This piece is legend, but not easy to pull off because it requires a huge orchestra, a whole row of percussion desks and elaborate off-stage effects   Rihm's  model for Tutuguri was a piece by  by Antonin Artaud, the actor and theatre theorist whose ideas have great influence on modern theatre, film, dance and music. Artaud believed that communication could exist on multiple levels.  Texts don't have to be spoken, nor even rational.  In Tutuguri, the soloist and invisible choir (on tape)  utter sounds in single syllable bursts of staccato, which don't have meaning in themselves: it's up to the audience to intuit the connections themselves.  If, of course, there "is" any meaning we can deduce. Artaud was fascinated by primal states of experience that cannot be articulated - hence the animalistic grunts and piercing screams. Orchestra and singers all on the same communal level.  Rihm's use of percussion is absolutely deliberate. because percussion reflects the rhythms of the human body, heartbeats, breathing, movement. This performance was exceptionally  muscular and physical, yet mesmerizing just as the rite it (sort of) describes would have been.  Savage as the subject may be, performance needs to be accurate and extremely tightly focussed or the whole point is missed.  This performance was so powerful that it far eclipsed Kent Nagano and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at  the Barbican last year (read my piece here).  The narrator,  Graham Forbes Valentine, who bore a disconcerting resemblance to Artaud, was so forceful that he seemed possessed, the tightness of his articulation like an elemental force oif nature. Luckily I was able to watch it three times through before Digital Concert Hall pulled it.  Explains why I'm too tired to write about Rossini Semiramide at the Proms, which I loved.  So don't miss the next livestream on Tuesday 6/9 when Valery Gergiev conducts the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in Shostakovich Symphony no 4 and Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3  "Jesus Messiah, save us", which I wrote about  in July HERE.  A striking piece I can't wait to hear again.  Ivan Fischer and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin on 8/9 with Hans Werner Henze I vitalino raddoppiato for violin (Julia Fischer) and chamber orchestra. A beautifully expressive piece which could easily stand up to Bruckner 7, which I heard last week with Haitink and RCOA livestreamed from Amsterdam. Andris Nelsons conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker on  Saturday 10th in Debussy Prélude à lʼaprès-midi dʼun faune,  Edgard Varèse Arcana and Berlioz Symphonie fantastique. An intelligent programme presented, no doubt, with flair and extremely high musical standards. More Varèse (Déserts) and Ligeti (Violin Concerto, Pekka Kuuisto) the next day with Jonathan Nott and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie , followed by Beethoven 3 Eroica.  Then Dudamel Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie.  I heard this a few months back, but it's really for fans of the conductor rather than fans of the music. Kirill Petrenko conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester on 14/9 in Ligeti Lontano, Bartók Violin Concero no 1 (Frank Peter Zimmermann)  and Richard Strauss Sinfonia domestica.  Good combination, should be good.   Then John Adams conducts an all John Adams concert on 17/9.

Tribuna musical

August 29

Gluck´s “Orpheus and Eurydice”: Juventus presents sad travesty

Some operas have changed musical history: Christoph Willibald Gluck´s "Orfeo ed Euridice" is one of them. Born in 1714, his operatic career started in typical Italian form following the Metastasio model of "opera seria" based on myth or ancient history: recitatives and florid arias generally sung by castrati and sopranos; almost no duets or choirs or ensembles. From 1741 to 1760 he wrote 22. And from 1755 to 1761 a series of nine French comedy operas mainly for Schönbrunn, in a very different style from the Italian ones. So when we arrive to 1762 he had already created 32 operas in the two predominant styles of those times. He was 48 years old, a mature man. It´s worth mentioning that in 1761 he had composed an astonishing "ballet d´action", "Don Juan" , scenario by Angiolini based on Molière, with very dramatic music in the scene where Don Juan falls to Hell. This showed that the right literary stimulus could change Gluck´s music, and in fact it was the poet Raniero Calzabigi´s libretto on the old Greek myth that compelled the musician to write differently. Indeed there are basic changes: the melodies in the arias are simple but expressive, with little ornament; there´s a lot of choral writing; and the "recitativo secco" (only with harpsichord) is substituted with the "accompagnato" of strings. The opera is short in three succinct acts, not overlong as many "opere serie" were. There´s a French influence in the inclusion of dances. But Orfeo is still a contralto castrato, not a tenor. Of course the Orphic myth was essential when opera was invented by the Camerata Fiorentina: Jacopo Peri´s "Euridice", dated 1600, is the first opera that survived those seminal birth years. And Claudio Monteverdi´s "La favola d´Orfeo" (1607, Mantova), was a giant step forward. Gluck´s "Orfeo..." was called a reform opera, but he came back to Metastasio´s model several times. However, his "Orfeo..." had an impact, even if most composers followed the old model, and in 1767 Calzabigi spurred him on and the composer wrote "Alceste" for Vienna, going far beyond the reforms of "Orfeo...". As Gluck wrote in the preface: "I have striven to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry by means of expression and by following the situations of the story". And then, from 1774 to 1779, came his period in Paris, where he succeeded Rameau as the greatest creator of French tragic operas, including an adaptation by Moline of Calzabigi´s "Orfeo...". There Orfeo is a tenor, and some wonderful pieces are added: the Dance of the Furies (derived from the closing pages of "Don Juan") and the beautiful Eurydice aria, "Cet asile aimable et tranquille", plus an expansion of the dances in the final Tableau. Berlioz adapted in 1859 the tenor part to the contralto voice of Pauline Viardot, and a new tradition began. This transposition soon was used also for the Italian version. In fact, many recordings have opted for this change (e.g., Horne with Solti), until more recently historicism tried something else: a countertenor substituting for the castrato. But baritones (Bacquier in BA, Fischer-Dieskau on records) have also sung the part, attracted by its serene beauty. The numerous recordings still list more contraltos than countertenors, and at the Colón from 1924 to 1953 sang contraltos or mezzos; then, Bacquier in 1966 and mezzo Zimmermann in 1977. But in 2009 Franco Fagioli sang the countertenor version at the Coliseo, where the Colón did its season. And this brings me to the musical side of the current presentation of "Orfeo..." at the Avenida by Juventus Lyrica, for they opted also for a countertenor, Martín Oro. Eurydice has always been sung by sopranos, and Amor is a light soprano, also as usual. The 37-member historicist orchestra conducted by Hernán Schvartzman was very good; it included a cornetto and chalumeau (an early clarinet). Although Oro sang unevenly, with hooty highs, he knows the style; as Maria Goso (Eurydice) showed great improvement compared to her Merry Widow and Victoria Gaeta was sprightly and accurate, and furthermore the Choir under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was enthusiastic, we seemed to have the makings of a correct evening, but it wasn´t so. A poor version, far too fast, of the famous "Che farò senza Euridice", didn´t help. Again the culprit was the production, for María Jaunarena had an unfortunate wrong concept. Instead of respecting Calzabigi and Gluck, she invented an ugly transposition to current times. At the start, Orfeo composes helped by a violin. Eurydice salutes him, goes out; a screech and crash: she is dead. Then a medical team attempts to revive a naked girl quite unlike Goso, to no avail, whilst heavy pseudomedical data is both yelled and projected, interfering the brilliant Gluck Overture. And then, the opera starts, interrupted many times, for Jaunarena has incorporated orphic texts and writings on the Orpheus myth, mostly recited by Oreste Valente in clear Italian, plus several men and women; a particularly tasteless frequent parading of the dead girl was irritating. About twenty minutes of the music are ruined, and as several dances are cut (presumably to spend less), not much was left to be enjoyed. The costumes by Jaunarena are nondescript, and both the lighting and stage designs of Gonzalo Córdova were negative. When you can´t recognize an opera looking at the stage something is seriously amiss. And it was. For Buenos Aires Herald

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