Showing posts with label Franz Liszt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Franz Liszt. Show all posts

Friday, January 09, 2015

At the feet of guess who...

Jonas Kaufmann & Helmut Deutsch
I'm officially on holiday - a long way off, somewhere hot and sunny that involves hammocks, trees and the sound of the sea. But there's WiFi, so I can still offer you, belatedly, some impressions of the two gentlemen above, whom I was fortunate to hear at Wigmore Hall last Sunday, at an extremely welcome last minute.

Yes, Der Jonas was back in our top Lieder hall, and there are few finer places in which to appreciate his remarkable qualities at close quarters, within a warm acoustic magnifying glass. Here, even from the back row, the ambience and sound quality are intimate enough to let us hear a degree of nuance that might not come over to the same extent in a larger, more impersonal space.

An all-Schumann first half from two highly sophisticated German musicians could scarcely be bettered. First of all, the partnership between Kaufmann and Deutsch - Jonas's Lieder Svengali - is something quite exceptional. The voice and the piano are so attuned to one another as to fuse into an indivisible sound, just as an orchestra at its best becomes a single entity. To call Deutsch an accompanist would be not just invidious, but unthinkable. They opened with five of the too-rarely heard Kerner Lieder, topped by 'Stille Tränen' - one of Schumann's most devastating songs, laden with the burdens of depression and intense longing, to say nothing of the glories of its melody. Kaufmann built up to this song as the climax it needs to be - and can hardly help being, given its quality - and unleashed the full power of his exceptional dynamic control.

Some musicians' sounds, whether they are singers, violinists, pianists or anything else, strike us at what certain New Age types would call the Chakra points. The vibrations might strike us primarily at the top of the head, between the eyebrows, around the solar plexus, clean in the stomach or guts, and probably one or two other spots as well - but whichever is the case, it becomes irresistible, setting off goose-bumps in some cases, tears in others, or simply the sense of rising far from everyday predictability into something rare, more sensitive, more extraordinary, that carries us with it to some measure of the beyond. Suffice it to say that this song did that.

Dichterliebe - the ultimate Schumann cycle, to many - is a work much maligned and misinterpreted, despite its phenomenal beauty and the perfectionism of its writing. This is not Schubert; far from the innocence and tragedy of Die schöne Müllerin and the desperation of Winterreise, this is Schumann's take on a love story - won, then lost - as portrayed by the poet Heinrich Heine, master of double-edged irony. Some suggest, oddly, that Schumann ignored Heine's detachment and cynicism. Yet the composer was a highly literary individual, one as adept (or nearly) with words as he was with music, constantly inspired by the poetry and novels of German romanticism at its peak. Kaufmann and Deutsch's Dichterliebe was as much Heine as it was Schumann; Kaufmann's gifts as storyteller were to the fore, backed by the refulgent tones of Deutsch's pianism; this was delicate, close-sketched life-drawing, leaving an emotional impact as subtle as the poet deserves - not head-butting indulgence, but something far more nuanced and colourful.

After the interval came the Wagner Wesendonck Lieder, Kaufmann bringing to the world of solo song the composer with whom he is perhaps most strongly associated. Studies for Tristan? If the third and fifth songs are indeed, Kaufmann will (hopefully) be a Tristan to be reckoned with if/when he gets round to singing the role. For the time being, this was a Wagner incarnation as rare and insightful as the Dichterliebe was to Schumann: a fresh, convincing and unexpected take that made complete musical and poetic sense. These songs, usually larger than life with a mezzo and an orchestra, became intimate and transparent, but in a world of their own, distinct from the Schumann; Kaufmann's perfect Siegmund tone shone at its steel-and-caramel best.

For Liszt's three Petrarch Sonnet settings - oddly, better known in their solo piano versions -  Kaufmann turned Italian. Like a religious convert who becomes more zealous than those born into a faith, he can sometimes seem more Italian than the Italians. The sound of the words becomes not only the inspiration for the music - instead, the words are the music, the latter simply a manifestation of a soundworld that is already there in Petrarch's dazzling love poems. If Dichterliebe was a set of keenly observed charcoal sketches, the Sonnets were as gigantic and perfectly wrought as Michelangelo sculptures. Petrarch gives his all in these poems, Liszt follows suit and Kaufmann and Deutsch delivered in kind. One encore - Schumann's 'Mondnacht' - quietened down to an exquisitely controlled, half-lit cantilena in which - as often through the evening - you couldn't help wondering when he manages to breathe.

Most Jonas concerts involve a substantial quantity of encores, but this one didn't. Whether that was because it was a huge programme and he is saving himself for the small matter of Andrea Chénier rehearsals at the ROH, or because the audience mostly didn't stand up, then started to make its way out while he was taking curtain calls, is hard to say. The Wigmore is the finest concert hall in London by a long chalk, but it is a notoriously difficult place in which to get up and yell and cheer, which is what we'd have liked to do and which is what this performance deserved. Not wishing to embarrass my colleagues in Critics' Corner, I resisted the temptation. What a pity one feels one has to. I've seen a place as staid as Vienna's Musikverein go totally, utterly bananas over a Jonas-and-Helmut recital and the fact that that didn't happen in London says more about us than it does about them.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Accolade for Alan

Dr Alan Walker, whose three-volume biography of Franz Liszt is now the definitive text on last year's bicentenary supremo, has been awarded a top honour by the Government of the Republic of Hungary: the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit. It was announced, we hear, before the end of Liszt year (and before the new constitution in Hungary, which came into force the other day, dropped the word 'Republic'). Walker, professor emeritus of music at McMaster University, is also the biographer of Hans von Bulow, the conductor and Liszt's pre-Wagner son-in-law, and The Death of Liszt, based on the diary of Liszt's pupil Lina Schmalhausen. He will be bestowed with his award on 17 January at the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa.

Accolades for books of this excellence are few and far between and goodness knows it is well deserved. But I imagine it won't be long before someone says he ought to consider refusing the award in protest at the current turn of political events in Hungary. This brings home the point that we ought to have more recognition for excellence in musical scholarship from cultural and governmental bodies a bit closer to home.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Not Messiah

It's not Handel's Messiah. It's a playlist from a very naughty music-lover.


I've been listening to the thing again - it's hard to avoid it at this time of year - and OK, yes, it does have that certain je ne sais quoi. It's a great piece. He wrote a good old tune or several. But just every so often, wouldn't you like to hear something else instead, or even as well? Leave aside obvious substitutes like Bach’s Christmas Cantata, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and much nice music by John Rutter; as for The Nutcracker or The Four Seasons – Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi are great, but enough’s enough. My list features some seasonal music that rarely gets a look in, having been shouldered aside by wall-to-wall Hallelujah Choruses.

Elizabethan Christmas music
If ideal Christmas music is decorative, celebratory and sumptuous on one hand, and intimate, domestic and fun on the other, then the Elizabethan era had it all. Families with space and cash tended to be musically literate in those days, and they might have gathered on winter evenings to sing madrigals or play music for viol consort. Red Byrd and the Rose Consort of Viols recorded their selection of Elizabethan Christmas Music in 1989, complete with a quirky attempt at ‘authentic’ pronunciation. Composers include William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tomkins and more.
Recommended recording: Elizabethan Christmas Anthems, Red Byrd, Rose Consort of Viols, AMON RA CD-SAR46

Praetorius: Renaissance Christmas Music
Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) was a Lutheran from North Germany. His works are characterised by rich and sympathetic choral writing, similar at times to his greatest contemporary, Claudio Monteverdi – but Praetorius’s music remains rooted in Lutheran chorales, so the effect is gentler, simpler and more streamlined than that of the musical lion of Venice. His most often-performed work is probably the gorgeous carol ‘Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’, but I’ve picked a recording of some Christmas-friendly choral pieces that doesn’t include it.
Recommended recording: Viva Voce, BIS, BISCD1035

Bach transcriptions for piano
The term ‘Baroque’ was originally coined to evoke something extravagant, irregular, complex and extraordinary. If you enjoy musical pearls at their most baroque in every sense, then try transcriptions for solo piano of movements from Bach’s cantatas, violin works and concertos, made by some of the finest virtuoso composer-pianists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are hundreds, and Hyperion has been releasing a substantial series of CDs of them. The latest disc features transcriptions by Saint-Saëns and Isidor Philipp: life-enhancing, high-spirited triumphs of virtuosity that would spice up any Christmas.
Recommended recording: Bach transcriptions, Vol 10: Saint-Saëns and Isidor Philipp, Nadejda Vlaeva (piano), Hyperion CDA76873.

Liszt: Weinachtsbaum (Christmas Tree Suite)
Franz Liszt’s bicentenary is nearly over, but not quite. It’s a good excuse to seek out his Christmas Tree Suite, a set of 12 short piano pieces based on carols and lullabies, including ‘In dulci jubilo’ and ‘Adeste Fideles’. Written in 1866, they are tender, charming and lyrical, far indeed from the barnstorming heft of the Hungarian Rhapsodies and the romantic tumult of his B minor Sonata. Instead, this is Liszt as besotted grandfather: he dedicated the suite to his five-year-old granddaughter, Daniela. Coincidentally, her mother – Liszt’s daughter, Cosima, who later eloped with Wagner – had been born on Christmas Eve in 1837.
Recommended recording: Alfred Brendel (piano), Regis RRC1378

Saint-Saëns: Christmas Oratorio
This is a real buried treasure. Possessing extraordinary gifts himself, maybe the 23-year-old Saint-Saëns, writing in 1858, also expected much from his performers: the solo parts are extremely demanding to sing, which might be why the ten-movement work doesn’t pop up often enough. Involving chorus, five soloists, organ and a small orchestra with prominent role for the harp, it strikes a lovely balance between Bach-inspired churchliness and the boulevardier charm that came so easily to Saint-Saëns. Christmas with the French bourgeoisie at its tasty best.
Recommended recording: Noël, French Romantic Music for Christmas – Bachchor Mainz, L’Arpa Festante München/Ralf Otto, Deutsche HM 88697366582

Honegger: Une cantate de Noël
The Swiss-born Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) was among Gabriel Fauré’s last pupils at the Paris Conservatoire. This short Christmas cantata was his final composition and has proved one of his most popular – not that that is saying much, since his works remain shamefully neglected. Written in 1953, it captured something of the spirit of the times. The opening section, on the words ‘De profundis clamavi’, seems a postwar evocation of an existential ‘dark night of the soul’. But from there the music opens out, as if candlelit by the succession of carol fragments that flicker through the musical fabric, weaving a spell of increasing enchantment. Combining texts in French and German, it’s perhaps a message of hope for lasting peace.
Recommended recording: James Rutherford (baritone), Robert Court (organ), Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, Dean Close School Chamber Choir, BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales/Thierry Fischer, Hyperion CDA67688

Messiaen Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus
Messiaen’s most famous piano work – 20 ‘regards’, or meditations, on the image of Baby Jesus – includes a movement entitled ‘Noël’, but there is far more to this pianistic tour-de-force than that; more, too, than the vivid colours, crunchy textures and dizzying intricacies of the French composer’s unmistakeable style. Messiaen, a devout Catholic, wrote these astonishing pieces for Yvonne Loriod, whom he later married: she was a virtuoso pianist whose abilities inspired him to new heights of invention. His passion for her, for God and for music unite in a kind of mystical celebration that has rarely been matched. Super-demanding yet also super-rewarding, Messiaen’s music can cast Christmas in a whole new light.
Recommended recording: Steven Osborne (piano), Hyperion CDA67351/2

Piazzolla: Cuarto Estaciones Portenas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires)
Who needs Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons when you can have Astor Piazzolla’s? The Argentinian composer, who would have been 90 this year, studied in Paris with the eminent professor Nadia Boulanger. He aspired to haut-classical grandeur, but Boulanger spotted that his heart lay in the music of his homeland and advised him to go home to Buenos Aires and explore it. His personal sound-cocktail mingles sophisticated classical expertise with the sultry flavour of the tango.  His Four Seasons were inspired by Vivaldi’s; the ‘Winter’ Tango is a wonderful example of vintage Piazzolla.
Recommended recording: Tianwa Yang (violin), Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Giancarlo Guerrero, Naxos 8572271

Elgar: A Christmas Greeting
A gentle parlour song accompanied by a piano and two violins, this is the most intimate of all these Christmas suggestions: a setting by Elgar of a poem by his wife, Alice. It seems to conjure a cosy and very British type of Christmas in its domestic, hearthside greeting from one partner to the other and back again. And it is heartrendingly Elgarian, with those wonderful arched melodic contours and sense of yearning characteristic of his finest music.
Recommended recording: Worcester Cathedral Choir, Donald Hunt (conductor), Jeremy Ballard (violin), Robin Thurlby (violin), Keith Swallow (piano), Hyperion CDA66271/2

MacMillan: Veni, veni, Emmanuel
James MacMillan’s percussion concerto, taking its title from the medieval plainchant for Advent on which it’s based, was written for Dame Evelyn Glennie in 1991-1992. It is possibly the celebrated Scottish composer’s biggest hit, clocking up hundreds of performances. Structured in one arch-shaped movement, it lasts some 25 minutes, fills with mesmerising rhythmic trickery and marvellously imagined noises, with percussion instruments both pitched and unpitched, from vibraphone to cowbells. Impress your Christmas guests with your contemporary music savviness by playing it full blast.
Recommended recording: Evelyn Glennie (percussion), Scottish Chamber Orchestra /James MacMillan, RCA 828766428520

Saturday, October 22, 2011

LISZTFEST!


No prizes for guessing whose bicentenary it is today. You should know by now, because this year has been all about LISZT FERENC in all his very many colours. And really, there's only one way to celebrate...

Please sit back, turn up the sound and welcome some of the greatest Lisztians of all time to play some of my personal favourites... I hope you enjoy this selection as much as I've enjoyed choosing it. It's the tip of a very, very hefty iceberg, needless to say. Responses and further links welcome.

GYÖRGY CZIFFRA: TRANSCENDENTAL ETUDE NO.11, 'HARMONIES DU SOIR'


LOUIS KENTNER: LA LEGGIEREZZA (footage from his last Liszt recital in London, 1985)


JOHN OGDON: DANTE SONATA (in two parts. Filmed 50 years ago...don't miss the introduction for a little insight into how TV presentation has changed over the intervening half century...)



DINU LIPATTI: SONETTO 104 DEL PETRARCA


GRIGORY GINZBURG: VALLEE D'OBERMANN (2 parts)



CLAUDIO ARRAU: FUNERAILLES (2 parts)



VLADIMIR HOROWITZ: HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY NO.6 (recorded 1947)


ERWIN NYIREGYHAZI: SONETTO 123 DEL PETRARCA

Friday, August 19, 2011

Celebrate Liszt! Win a piano with 44 keys!

I'd like to pass on to you verbatim, dear readers, an email that has arrived from the US branch of Universal Music, offering a distinctly 21st-century approach to marking the bicentenary of Franz Liszt.


The prize is AOK as long as you don't mind your piano having only 44 keys instead of 88, which will probably ditch the chance of you ever actually *playing* any Liszt on it (but clearly our friends over the pond don't consider that the point.)  


I should add that the compilation album you find when you follow the crazyliszt link is rather good, full of quality performances, and there's a lovely picture of Alice Sara Ott. Not sure about that wedding march... but you will find Liszt's paraphrase of Mendelssohn's one in the track listing.


Have some fun with this... 



"...[we]would like to share FIRST WITH YOUR SITE  a contest  that we are hosting that I feel that you and your audience would really enjoy.  The contest is FREE to enter and being held at www.crazyliszt.com – in which we are giving away a FREE RED BABY GRAND Piano in honor of 200 years of the music of Franz Liszt, known for composing the “Wedding March” piece heard at EVERY Wedding, along with many other popular pieces heard in movies, cartoons, and plays. The contest is very asy to enter. Basically since Franz Liszt was known for his incredible piano skills and crazy lifestyle, people simply post a short “list” of their craziest things they love.  The “liszt” with the most votes wins a trendy, fashion-forward 44 key Baby Grand Piano from Schoenhut (valued at over $2000).  Attached to this email is a photo of the piano if you would like to take a look.This contest offers your audience the opportunity to revisit classics from one of the greatest composers in history while possibly also winning a baby grand that would look great in any home – especially those with little space.  We would love for your site to featurewww.crazyliszt.com and getting your viewers not only the first chance on this great contest, but the opportunity to win an instrument that is both fun and trendy!  It really is a great way for mothers and kids to enjoy classical music with a really HIP LOOKING piano!Thanks again and I hope you would be interested in featuring the contest on your site.Any questions or request to have the contest featured on your site, please let me know! www.crazyliszt.com"

THE CRAZIEST THINGS JD LOVES
My husband
My cat
Sight-reading Faure by candlelight at about 1am
Tofu
Doing summery things in the UK, under an umbrella, shivering with cold
Trying to keep beautiful ideas alive in a mad, mad, mad, mad world




Saturday, July 30, 2011

FRANZ LISZT: SINS OF THE FATHER

Very happy to announce that TOMORROW, in AUSTRALIA, my latest 'stage work' will take the platform for the first time at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, Far North Queensland. Entitled Franz Liszt: Sins of the Father, it's a grand-scale piece bringing together as many of the resident musicians as humanly possible, and commissioned for the Liszt Bicentenary Year by the doughty Piers Lane, pianist and artistic director of the festival. The show kicks off at the Townsville Civic Theatre at 4pm.

The popular Australian radio presenter Damien Beaumont is Franz Liszt, narrating the strange history of how his sometime friend Wagner stole his limelight, his music and his daughter Cosima - and how, perhaps, the scandal of the latter was his own fault. There is humour, pathos, poetry (from Obermann), love and some reflection on the bonds that bind families so close, however bizarre that family may be.

It's very exciting that Lisa Gasteen, the great Australian Wagnerian soprano, is making a rare return to the concert platform to perform Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder and Liszt's 'O lieb', accompanied by Piers (pictured right) himself. The performance opens with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, and along the way there are solo spots for violinists Jack Liebeck in Paganini's Variations on God Save the King and Philippe Graffin in Liszt's Romance Oubliee and Bartok's Romanian Dances; pianist Danny Driver, who'll play Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; and cellist Louise Hopkins, who plays the cello version of La lugubre gondola and joins Philippe and Danny in the trio version of Vallee d'Obermann. And finally there's the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2...played by the Contiguglia Brothers piano duo, the American pianists who were among the last pupils of Dame Myra Hess.

I just wish I was there. But the performance will be broadcast the next day on ABC Radio and I'm informed that it should be possible to access it by internet, though I haven't quite worked out the time difference issues... UPDATE: An Australian tweet-friend has sent me this link which should hopefully do the trick: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/audio/#again

Do please feel free to drop me or Piers's agent a line if you are a venue that would like to book the show for Wagner Year, 2013.

UPDATE: Limelight Magazine has an interview with Damien today in which he (pictured left) talks quite extensively about Sins of the Father and what he loves about Liszt.
Taster:
Beaumont says a complicated triangle of musical passions, love and betrayal lies at the heart of the show, which takes as its subject not only Liszt but also that other Romantic titan, Richard Wagner. “We explore the story of Liszt, his daughter Cosima and her eventual marriage to Wagner. It’s an extraordinary tale of these two men connected by women, and connected by music."
The suave Hungarian and the imperious German were longtime friends, the wealthy concert pianist often helping Wagner financially. But the relationship turned sour. “The whole story is predicated on what Wagner stole from Liszt, right from his daughter to a musical phrase that Wagner turned into a five-hour opera.”