Friday, November 30, 2012

Gotterdammerung Valencia Mehta This performance had lasted for almost six hours with two breaks in between. At the end of the performance, Zubin Mehta and the cast had a standing ovation for over fifteen minutes. Three years ago when the project was designed, the whole idea seemed daring and avant-garde by La Fura dels Baus. If the set and direction are shocking, the reviewer is amazed by the harmony between the stage, the pit and the voices. As the triumph of love is the main theme of this opera, love is being rhapsodized in all possible combinations: conjugal love at day break and a full orgy at Brünnhilde’s rock. Zubin Mehta has a lyric approach to the score. The entire orchestra blends in very well, giving a sonic satisfaction to the listener.

The Definitive Ring by Solti For his Musik Drama, Richard Wagner had made it clear with his directives that more important than the singing was the acting component. Wagner was concerned entirely with the outline of his musical leitmotifs that are woven in the fabric of this music drama. An Introduction to the Ring, the beautiful white box set presented by Derryck Cooke, still stays in my mind as the ideal introduction set for anyone visiting the Nibelungen Ring Drama for the first time. Cooke collaborated with Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. These recordings were engineered by Mr. Culshaw between 1958 and 1965. This is exemplified by this astounding opening to the Drama, the Prelude to Das Rheingold. Das Rheingold has to be one of the most famous of Solti's recordings. I have heard many Rheingolds in the past thirty eight years from Masters like Furtwangler, Levine, Karajan, Boulez and Maazel. They do not come even close to Solti. Solti and Decca have created a miracle. The `Gramophone' magazine has voted it in 1997 as the greatest opera recording ever made. I will agree with it. This 1983 performance with the Bayreuth Festpielhaus does not have that same depth as the Vienna one but it is still way ahead of others.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

D Minor Symphony of Cesar Franck

Cesar Franck was a Belgian composer. He was a proficient organist, pianist and a teacher and settled down in Paris for his musical career. He was a child prodigy, giving public recitals at the age of twelve. He was also hired by pipe organ manufacturers to promote their pipe organs. Franck composed his solo D Minor Symphony in 1887. It is a beautiful symphony with cyclical motifs. The audience did not like it at first when it was performed in Paris and they were fools. The critics were shocked by the form and the structure of the symphony. The harmonic writing at the beginning is bold indeed. Three themes, contrasting in nature, are stated in the beginning in D Minor to be repeated in F Minor. For the musicians and the critics, it was odd. They were also shocked by the second movement being Allegretto instead of the conventional Adagio. There was much talk about the use of an English horn as a solo instrument in the movement. The English horn was considered unworthy of use by a symphonic writer by many of Franck's contemporaries. They forgot that Berlioz had already shocked them at the earlier part of the nineteenth century in the slow movement of his Sinfonie Fantastique. I feel that symphony broke the shackles not only of the Classical age but went a step ahead even in the Romantic era. It was bold enough even for the idiotic critics of the Romantic period. The thematic links In Franck's D Minor Symphony between the individual movements owe a lot to Beethoven's Choral symphony and to Liszt's symphonic poems. Age has proved that Franck's symphony has risen above the mental confines of the thoughts of the idiotic critics of the symphony. The symphony, however, gained popularity elsewhere in Europe and the United States of America later. It is a superbly crafted symphony. It takes a diversion from the typical models of the later Romantic period. It was written in three movements. Each of the movements makes a reference to the opening four-bar theme. The definitive reading of this symphony is by Zubin Mehta and the Berlin Philharmonic followed by this attached interpretation of Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre Nationale de France; there is another great reading available by the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam under Karel Ancerl.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Richard Strauss: Symphony No. 2 in F Minor

Richard Strauss completed his F Minor Second Symphony in 1884. It was premiered, surprisingly, in New York by the New York Philharmonic under Theodore Thomas in December 1884 and Strauss played the symphony for the first time in Munich in 1885. The first movement is an Allegro in sonata form with three themes. It is reminiscent of Beethoven's early period music like the Coriolan or the Egmont overtures. The second movement is the scherzo which became very popular with the Bavarian audiences. The slow third movement has a brass motif that recalls the transition from the first Allegro movement. The final movement is inspired by Bruckner's style of composing. The themes of the other movements are recalled by Strauss just like Bruckner's `Wagner' Symphony in D Minor. It is a shame that Richard Strauss' symphonies in D Minor and this F Minor are neglected by all principal conductors of the past as well as the present ages. Johannes Brahms had attended Strauss' concert when he performed this symphony in Munich and commended it, finding it attractive. In the final movement, you can hear the strains of the opening theme of Eine Alpensinfonie. This recording is by the Slovak Philharmonic under Michael Halasz.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stabat Mater: Dvorak

Dvorak's Stabat Mater is a Cantata that was completed in 1877. Among all Stabat Maters that have been written, this stands out as probably the best. It is the most symphonic of them all. Recently, I heard another excellent Stabat Mater written by Karl Jenkins. This work by Dvorak was premiered in Prague in December 1880. When Dvorak started work on his Stabat Mater, he was grieving for a daughter that he had lost recently and before he completed the Stabat Mater, he lost his other two children too. This work became one of mourning and also that of healing for him. Technically, Stabat Mater in Latin means Lamentation of a Mother. It reflects on Virgin Mary's grief as she stands under the cross and looks at the crucified Christ. The introduction to Stabat Mater is a haunting prelude for orchestra in Wagnerian style. Wagner had visited Prague a few months before Dvorak started work on his Stabat Mater and the lovely preludes to Lohengrin must have left an impact on the mind of Dvorak. The prelude opens quietly into a melody that is tragic and is falling. The work is written in ten movements. It became so popular in England that Dvorak was called to conduct it there. Without a doubt, this Stabat Mater is superior to the ones written by Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Pergolesi, Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, Giuseppe Verdi, Zoltan Kodaly, Krzysztof Penderecki and Karl Jenkins.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Richard Strauss Symphony No. 1 in D Minor

This Symphony in D Minor was Richard Strauss' first major work. It was first played in 1880. It was well acclaimed by the audience in its first performance. He actually started composition when he was only six years old. Richard Strauss was only sixteen when he completed this symphony.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dvorak's Requiem

The Requiem is written in B Flat Minor. It is a funeral mass which was written in 1890 as it was commissioned for the Birmingham Festival in England. The Requiem has Introitus-Graduale-Dies Irae-Offertorium-Sanctus-Agnus Dei as its sections. Dvorak conducted its premiere in October 1891 in Birmingham. In addition to the solo singers, chorus and the standard Romantic orchestra ensemble strength, the additional instruments were the organ, harp, tam tam (Chau Gong) and Campane (bells). The opening of the Introitus is in a mysterious mood and the opening of the Dies Irae is thunderously rattling. There have been critics who have reviewed this work and called it dull and uninspiring. Obviously, their mind has wandered elsewhere and never followed the threads of this music. The Requiem is expressive and full of passion. It is a choral gem. It also became one of the most popular choral works of Dvorak and that too in his lifetime. He saw it performed many times in the remaining thirteen years of his life. This is the first reading of Mariss Jansons that has impressed me. The ensemble is Bayerischen Rundfunks. Sounds even better than the Karel Ancerl and the Slovak Philharmonic.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seiji Ozawa performing the Resurrection

I have always admired the readings of Seiji Ozawa ever since I saw him conduct at Philadelphia in 1974. Though the Maestro has been suffering from esophageal cancer since last year, his determination is outstanding in this brilliant rendition of the Resurrection.