Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beethoven's Razumovsky String Quartet No. 7. Op. 59 in F Major

https://youtu.be/oXLKu-HglnM This string quartet is the first among three quartets that were commissioned by Count Andrei Razumovsky who was then the Russian Ambassador to Vienna in 1806. This quartet falls also among the first of Beethoven's middle period quartets. Thise set of quartets is much different from his earlier group of Opus 18 quartets. These are longer in duration than the earlier ones and they involve a technical repertoire which is quite expanded. The first movement is in an expansive sonata form. It includes a fugato in its development section. The lengthy development section reminds you of the expanse of the first movement of the Eroica Symphony. Eroica was composed a few years earlier and it is considered as the beginning of Beethoven's middle period works.There is a delayed entry of recapitulation. It happens after the tonic key gets established and it generates an expectation of a definite statement. The opening melody on the cello is ambiguous tonally and its first cadence is established in the key of F Major a little into few bars of the movement.The extended coda section is also very nicely crafted. The second scherzo movement is quite unusual among the middle period works of Beethoven. It is also in sonata form like the solemn slow third movement and the fourth movement which is built on a Russian theme. It was an attempt to make the work familiar to the Russian ambassador. It has a cheerful melody which appears in the beginning and it is based on a folk song. There is both canonic and contrapuntal activity here. It has a development section and a recapitulation of a genial nature. On the final leaf of his sketches for the quartet, Beethoven mentioned a phrase, "A weeping willow or acacia tree on my brother's grave." It is interesting to note that both his brothers were alive when this work was composed; so, the interpretation is that this phrase has a masonic significance as the acacia is considered to be the symbolic plant in Freemasonry. This work is considered among the finest chamber works of the classical period. This set of three quartets is generally found to be difficult to perform. They were written in a span of six months.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Verdi Otello Karajan

https://youtu.be/L45YKMxOFjA This was an opera written by Verdi in his last years. It is his penultimate opera. The libretto for this opera was written by Arrigo Boito who is famous for his opera Mefistofele. He also worked on several other libretti for other composers. It is a mighty good effort and even Shakespeare would be proud of this opera. The cast, the sets and the orchestra along with its conducting are all excellent. Otello is played by Jon Vickers who delivers with a booming voice. It is well matched for this part. He is a fine actor, too. Mirella Freni plays Desdemona and sings flawlessly. She is also a fine actress. Peter Glossop plays Iago. The sets of this opera are highly effective. The opera was shot partially in Venice and the setting is in a medieval castle that has brilliant murals. You will come across some stunning and lavish sets in this particular production. Karajan does a Hitchcock in the tavern scene in the first act. Karajan has directed this film and conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and the singers in this production. I have never heard any other orchestra play Otello with such aplomb and in these forty one years, I do not think such orchestral playing for this opera has been surpassed. It is simply an outstanding performance. https://youtu.be/n8lM8SjB6eY

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tchaikovsky Fate Karajan Philharmonia 1954

When the fourth symphony of Tchaikovsky was initially performed in 1878, many among the audience raised a question on whether it was purely a symphony or a symphonic poem. This question then started echoing through the concert halls in Europe. Tchaikovsky had proclaimed the opening motif in this symphony as `fatum' and he made it asthe fate theme. The symphony then went on to become a hot battle ground for the use of a title. I, however, call it FATE as there is a symphonic poem also composed by Tchaikovsky with the title of FATUM. People fail to realise that Tchaikovsky used to suffer with nervous disorder in different forms and these depression bouts were strongest during the time that he was composing this symphony. He was going through nervous strains and all thse are reflected in this music. He was also trying to recover from a marriage that proved disastrous for him. It resulted almost in a mental breakdown. He recuperated by retreating to Lake Geneva and to Italy. He was able to work peacefully on the symphony as a result of the financial support from Nadejda von Meck, his benefactress. She remained his admire and correspondent. They never met during his lifetime as per terms of the agreement they had made with each other. Tchaikovsky referred to the opening motif as `Fate' and acknowledged openly that he was inspired by Bethoven's Fifth Symphony. In Beethoven's symphony, fate is a participant whereas in this symphony, fate is only an onlooker. The opening motif gives way to the first waltz subject; it has a depressive mood. The despair builds up in intensity. Comfort is found in the second subject on the clarinets, accompanied by a counterpoint in the cellos. At the climax, fate intervenes again as the coda is full of despair. The second movement is a lesson in melancholia. You may feel that it is an old person remembering his youthful days. The first andantino theme is given by the oboe and the second theme is given by the strings in low-pitched octaves. The scherzo is unique in all the symphonic repertoire as it is a marvellous exhibition of lightness, marked by pizzicatos on the strings. It highlights the fantasy of an intoxicated mood. The middle section has an unusual structure with dissimilar halves; you have a rustic theme on the winds which is followed by brass playing staccato. The finale bursts on to the scene to drive away personal sorrows to experience happiness. It comes like a tornado and then gives way to a Russian folk tune, 'In the fields stood a birch tree'. This theme has also been used by Mily Balakirev in his `Overture on Russian Themes'. Fate appears for the last time before the symphony concludes on a majestic note. This symphony is an exercise in master orchestration. People talk bullshit about aesthetics and ask various questions about whether it is a symphony; the answer to them is a YES. It is a symphony with effective orchestration and ornamental details. This 1954 performance by Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London is a fine document of this great symphony.