Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sinfonia Espansiva - Carl Nielsen

You cannot listen to Nielsen and not become a better person for it. This is one of the most humane symphonies. The first few notes hold you spellbound. Great hammer blows from the whole orchestra, abrupt and jolting like pokes of fortissimo that come as a shock. There is an odd rhythmic pattern to them; yet, you cannot tell when the next turn is coming. Each feels like a thunderclap. The music springs to life taking form right before your ears. The music soars and expands. It is indeed 'Espansiva'. You are on a roller coaster that swings you from side to side so that you never know exactly where you are going. You only feel the excitement of the thrilling ride. This title represents Nielsen's genius at creating music that continually expands itself like a breathing organism, unpredictable and forever forward. The opening movement as I said earlier is friendly after the introductory percussion onslaught following which there is a distinct Danish flavoured theme that opens the bluff. The second movement is a 'Pastorale'. Here, a tenor/baritone and a soprano thread through the instrumental patterns with pipe organ arpeggios in the background together with french horns, oboe and flute. The two soloists wordlessly intone an aura of landscape and panorama. The third movement is a neat scherzo with an opening statement on the french horns that concludes softly on the timpani, oboe and bassoon. The finale has a big, simple tune. More contrapuntal entries open up. The brass introduce an apocalyptic impulse into the continuity with a canon that is exotically harmonised with punctuated rhythms to end in a rapt climax. This recording is good with Schonwandt delivering a charged performance with the Danish National Radio Orchestra. The best performance of this symphony comes from Leonard Bernstein with the same orchestra and one of his early sixties' recordings with the New York Philharmonic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Die Zauberflote - Sir Colin Davis

Die Zauberflote was composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The work is in the form of a Singspiel that includes both singing and spoken dialogue. The opera was premiered on 30th September 1791, about three months before Mozart died. Mozart himself conducted the Orchestra Freihaustheater auf der Wieden, Wien. The librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder sang the role of Papageno.
This opera is widely known for its masonic allegory. For example, the opening bars of the overture are reminiscent of the second degree knocks on the door. Mozart and Schikaneder were masons. Throughout the opera, the masonic symbolism is easily seen and particularly during the trials in the Temple of Wisdom.
The Queen of the Night's aria , 'Der Holle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen' is the most well known of all time and is the greatest aria written ever for a coloratura soprano. This difficult aria demands a two range octave and a lyric soprano voice dramatic enough to convey the emotional brevity of the scene.
If Mozart had attended the performance of Diana Damrau under Sir Colin Davis and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, he would have shed tears of ecstacy. I am convinced that this is the best and most complete experience of this opera that we could get. This production gives detail that is astounding. Enormous work has gone into the elaborate costumes and stage designs. They are briliantly captured by the camera. The lighting gives nuances between the night and daylight scenes. It seems very natural. Sir Colin Davis has brought magic to this Zauberflote.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stationary Bike

Stephen King's short story. (B-).About an ad painter Richard Sifkitz whose cholesterol levels go very high due to obsessive Krispy Kreme hogging. He is advised strict diet and rigid exercise by his Dr. Brady. He decides to go down to his parking lot basement and exercise on his stationary bike. Whenever he sits on the stationary bike and starts to pedal, he falls asleep and the stationary bike takes over giving him an eerie ride by the countryside, a ride ridden with guilt and complexes and bizarre unfolding of events. There are some brilliant passages in this short story such as:
"Once upon a time, back in the seventies, you could get away with a cholesterol reading of 240, but of course back in the seventies, you could still smoke in the waiting rooms at hospitals".
"Once you are past forty, it gets harder every year. After forty, Richard, the weight sticks to your arse like babyshit sticks to a bedroom wall".
"That was in the fall of 2002, a year after the Twin Towers had fallen into the streets of the Financial District and life in New York City was returning to a slightly paranoid version of normal.. except in New York, slightly paranoid was normal".
"Except when he went down the next day, there was no need to paint the beer cans out of the picture; they were already gone".
"And the taste in his mouth was oily and dusty, oily on his tongue and dusty on the insides of his cheeks and his teeth, and his back hurt, it hurt LAMF that stood for Like A Motherfucker".
"My last chance to avoid the ending everyone expects in stories like this".
"Despite whatever the Hindu philosophy might be, Richard Sifkitz believed you only went around once".

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dvorak: New World and Bernstein

I got this yesterday. The New York Philharmonic recording of 1962. I have been stung by it. I have heard at least twenty performances of this symphony and the only one to surpass Bernstein is Istvan Kertesz with the London Symphony also in the sixties. Since then, there have been umpteen performances but none worth the weight with the exception of Carlo Maria Giulini , Zubin Mehta, Herbert Von Karajan, Witold Rowicki and Rudolf Kempe. Prior to Bernstein and Kertesz, an electrifying rendition exists and it is by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC.
Just one point in why I find this performance so great. New York plays with great elan and Bernstein is the pioneer in recognising the first movement exposition repeat. No one before him acknowledged that.
The more I listen to Leonard Bernstein the more I realise that he has left his definitive stamp on quite a few recordings. This is one of them.