Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 34: Beethoven overtures (Fidelio and Leonore 2)

Day 34: Beethoven overtures (Fidelio and Leonore 2)

This is music from my childhood! As well as going to the NewTheatre in Cardiff to see D’Oyly Carte, we were also regulars at the WNO seasons, and I distinctly remember seeing Fidelio. This led me to investigate Beethoven’s other overtures, only to discover that he wrote 3 overtures for his opera Fidelio, each called Leonore (numbers 1, 2 and 3) (after the character in the opera called Leonore, who disguises herself as Fidelio), before settling on the Fidelio Overture.

The overture, Fidelio, is a fairly light work which introduces the opera, but seems not to contain any thematic relationship to the plot. Leonora 2, however, follows the course of the plot with the trumpet signalling the announcement of the sudden change towards a happy ending.

The Fidelio Overture was performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tamas Pal, while Leonore 2 was performed by the Dresden Phil, conducted by Herbert Kegel.


Day 33: Strauss, Waltzes and Polkas

Day 33: Strauss, Waltzes and Polkas

I remember as a small child watching a programme all about the Strauss family, and this selection of waltzes and polkas reminded me so much, that I had to go and look up the programme. It was apparently aired in 1972, and its cast included Jane Seymour and Tony Anholt!

Anyway, back to the music! My CD consisted of music by Johann Strauss Senior, the father of two of the other composers on the disc, Johann Strauss Junior, and Joseph Strauss. For me, renditions of music like the Blue Danube Waltz, the Radetzky March and Sport Polka, just bring to mind pictures of Viennese ballrooms, with ladies and gents all dolled up and looking elegant, dancing wildly to this fantastic music.

This was a New Year’s Day Concert from 1990, recorded live with Zubin Mehta conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 32: Schubert – a selection of Lieder

Day 32: Schubert – a selection of Lieder.
Picture will follow. 
The selection I listened to was very short! Gretchen Am Spinrade (aka Margaret at the Spinning Wheel) and Die Junge Nonne (aka the Young Nun)! The former was a piece I learned and performed as an audition piece when I joined the Loughborough Amateur Operatic Society way back in the early ‘80s (still going strong – LAOS, not my singing!): Curiously, my daughter is now going out with the grandson of the chap I had to sing for! I’m not sure where my love of Schubert songs came from; it was possibly from my A level studies, or maybe from university, as one of our courses was vocal music.

The performer here was mezzo-soprano Tamara Takacs, with Jeno Jando at the piano, and was recorded at the Reformed Church in Budapest. Surprisingly good voice actually; like a lot of people, I imagine, I can just here Kathleen Ferrier singing these.

Day 31: The Very Best of English Song!

Day 31: The Very Best of English Song!
Picture coming soon!
The selection I listened to included:

Tom Bowling; Home Sweet Home; Come into the Garden, Maud; The Foggy Foggy Dew; The Plough Boy and Popular Song.

You’ll know the first two as these are regularly played at the Last Night of the Proms (and I’ve heard a few of those lately, courtesy of Hathern Band). The third, Come into the Garden, Maud, was a piece I first heard when I was in my early teens. It haunted me for years and years, and it wasn’t until I was about 40 that I finally found a copy of the sheet music, and was then able to track down a recording of it. I don’t know why, but the closest I kept coming to was In a Monastery Garden – but I’ve no idea why! Absolutely fantastic piece, and one I can actually play on the piano (as long as I miss out the octave stretches!) Robert Tear is the singer on all the above.

Popular Song is taken from Walton’s Façade Suite and is beautifully performed on this recording by Michael Flanders, as in Flanders andSwann fame.

Fabulous stuff!

Day 30: Schutz, St Matthew Passion

Day 30: Schutz, St Matthew Passion
Photo to follow shortly
Not sure how I came by this CD; I actually don’t like the music very much, but I’m not sure why not. At one time I was quite partial to a bit of early choral music, (and retro stuff like the Rachmaninov Vespers) but these days, I regret to say, I find it rather lugubrious and morose. Perhaps I’ve been listening to too much twentieth century stuff lately!

Heinrich Schutz was around between 1585 and 1672, and he was more or less a contemporary of Monteverdi. The Passion is for unaccompanied voices because in the Dresden Court Chapel where Schutz’s music was performed it was forbidden to play musical instruments during holy week. In order to make his music understood, Schutz developed a very expressive kind of sprechgesang, and a Passion recitative style. Apparently Schutz’s Passions disappeared from the repertoire until they were discovered and re-published in 1885.

Enough! The recording was of Wurttemberg Chamber Choir conducted by Dieter Kurz.

Day 29: Haydn Military Symphony

Day 29: Haydn Military Symphony
Picture to follow shortly.
After listening to Stravinsky, would it be awfully rude of me to say how much I enjoyed listening to something simple, straightforward and tuneful?! Haydn would probably not appreciate this comment, but I did find his Military Symphony (no.100) nice and undemanding.

Haydn composed a series of symphonies known as the London symphonies, of which there were twelve, this being the eighth. The symphony was made up of the normal four movements and used the normal classical line-up of instruments (two each of flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, standard percussion and strings.

The name Military Symphony seems to have come from the idea that the second movement contains trumpet fanfares and percussion that is reminiscent of the sound of war. Despite this, (meaning the reminder of war) the whole piece is a great piece of musical composition.

The rendition I was listening to was performed by the Philharmonia Classica, and was conducted by Andreas von Aubel.

Day 28: Stravinsky, Rite of Spring

Day 28: Stravinsky, Rite of Spring
Picture to follow!
Ah, now, this is more like it!! Reminds me of my university days, and the music lectures! Such a lot of the stuff we listened to was from the early twentieth century, that this almost typical! I think one of the things that stands out for me is the use of the woodwind section, which is much more prominent than in earlier music. Apparently, Stravinsky takes these wind instruments to the extremes of their registers in order to achieve the sound he wants.

The word cacophony keeps coming to mind, but I think what I actually mean is dissonance! This is quite a feature of this piece, and others of the time. Rite of Spring (aka Le Sacre du Printemps) was written to accompany a ballet that was choreographed by Nijinsky and produced by Diaghilev – quite a roll call of names, there. I must admit I’ve never seen the ballet and always think of it as a standalone piece. Great fun!

This recording was made by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Monteux.

Day 27: Mozart Trio in E flat

Day 27: Mozart Trio in E flat

Picture to follow!

Now this is something that doesn’t appear very often in my CD collection, I’ve noticed: Chamber music. This on appears to have been on the cover of the BBC Music Magazine, so there must have been something that appealed to me, as I don’t ever remember buying said magazine!

This particular trio was written for clarinet, viola and piano, and is in three movements: Andante – Minuet & Trio – Rondo. This was apparently unusual, as a first movement would normally be faster. This movement is also unusual in that the second theme is quite clearly developed from the first theme and thus gives the movement the sound of being almost monothematic. Also, the second movement is unusual in that the trio is almost twice the length of the minuet. It’s as if Mozart wants this to be the emotional core of the whole work. In accordance with convention, the key of the rondo is E flat, the same as the opening movement, but, unusually for Mozart, it is a 7 part rondo.

The recording I listened to was of a live performance at the Californian SummerFest La Jolla, 1999.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Day 26: Nielsen Symphony no.3

Day 26: Nielsen Symphony no.3

Carl Nielsen was a Danish composer who was born in 1865, just a year after Richard Strauss. He was quite a prolific composer, writing 6 symphonies, various concertos [ok, concerti if one must be pedantic!], many orchestral and ensemble works, a couple of operas, and lots of hymns.

His early influences were composers like Grieg and Brahms, although as his career progressed his music became more modern in outlook.

The third symphony is called Sinfonia Espansiva, and was described by Nielsen himself in a programme note:

“The symphony expresses – namely in the first movement - a strong tension which in the second movement  … has been completely eradicated by idyllic calm. Towards the end of this movement two human voices sing on the vowel a, as though to bring about a sort of flegmatically paradisal mood.”

“The third movement is something that cannot really be characterised in that both good and evil make themselves felt without a real outcome. The finale … is straightforward: a hymn to work and the healthy enjoyment of daily life. Not a pathetic celebration of life but a sort of general joy in being able to participate in the work of daily living and to see activity and capability unfold all around us.”

My recording was of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Myng-Whun Chung.

Day 25: Fauré Requiem

Day 25: Fauré Requiem

I had so forgotten how sublimely peaceful this piece of music is! In fact, it started so quietly (and continued in that vein for most of the requiem) that I had to turn the volume on the CD player up! Either I’m getting deafer as I get older (always seem to have had a problem with my hearing) or I’ve been listening to too much loud music lately (could be that Hathern band, you know!)

Listening to this now, I can remember the first time I sang it, way back in the early 80s with the Charnwood Choral Society. Only done it a couple of times since then, with the Leicester Philharmonic Choir and the Nottingham Choral Trust, but I found I hadn’t even forgotten the words!

Of course, having said the requiem was quiet and peaceful throughout, the Dies Irae in Libera Me, does have some rather rousing passages, but this is quickly followed by In Paradisum, which starts with some high sopranos accompanied by gentle semi-quaver arpeggios. Apparently, the Libera Me was written separately from the rest of the work, and was intended as a stand-alone piece.

When I originally got to know the Fauré, I loved it – and I still do. Now, however, having sung a few more choral works, I can see similarities between this and the Rutter Requiem (which is another all-time favourite), almost as if the Rutter is an extension of the Fauré. I suppose that’s just musical development for you, and unless you’re a music critic or sitting listening critically to a selection of music, or studying music one probably doesn’t give it a moment’s thought. Anyway, I’m probably wrong, but this is just my opinion.

The recording that I listened to was the Royal PhilharmonicOrchestra with the London Symphony Chorus conducted by Richard Hickox. The soloists were Aled Jones and Stephen Roberts.

Day 24: Weber Clarinet Concerto no.1

Day 24: Weber Clarinet Concerto no.1

Oh wow! This really takes me back! To my teens!! I have memories of playing this for one of my clarinet exams; but how much beautifully does Emma Johnson play it than I?! This CD was obviously bought for the familiarity of something I could play, and for the performer who had just won the BBC Young Musician of the Year * competition! Can’t remember the exact year, but it was probably 1984.

Carl Maria von Weber ** (1786-1826) was a contemporary of Beethoven (1770-1827), although to me his music is slightly more reminiscent of the style of Mozart, and he was taught at one time by Haydn’s younger brother, Michael. The concerto is fairly typical of the Classical period, following the traditional concerto form – three movements, fast-slow-fast – and is scored for instruments typical of the time. Although I’ve said it is Mozart in style, apparently, new styles of writing appear in the first movement, although the final movement is more conventional (according to the CD insert).

As I’ve said, my recording is of Emma Johnson, and she is accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz.

* Sorry to quote wikipedia at you, but this really is the best link to the competition that I can find on the internet.

** Now, the librarian in me would like your opinion about this website, please; it's not one I've come across before and I haven't had a chance to evaluate it yet. Thanks.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Day 23: Selection from Great Hymns of the Welsh Choirs

Day 23: Selection from Great Hymns of the Welsh Choirs

I’m currently reading Jasper Rees’s Bred of Heaven, a story of how a man (Jasper Rees) tries to re-discover his Welsh roots, and in the process, spends a lot of time in Wales doing things that the Welsh are famous for – like sheep farming, coal mining, mountain climbing and singing in a Welshmale voice choir, so what better way to accompany this reading with a little bit of Welsh male voice singing (not while I was actually reading, of course, as I can’t do both of those things at once!)

Anyway, the CD isn’t the best of the Welsh ones I’ve got, but it is the only one I have that is devoted to hymns, and there are some lovely hymns included: Cwm Rhondda*, How Great Thou Art, Rise Up Shepherd and Foller, to name but a few.

The performances were done by a variety of Welsh male voice choirs, including: Caerphilly, Morriston Orpheus, and Pontarddulais.

There are no notes on the CD insert, no comments on the list of pieces to indicate who wrote them, but hey, who needs all that anyway. Rousing music that speaks for itself!

*played far too fast on this webpage!

Day 22: Handel Watermusic

Day 22: Handel Watermusic

I didn’t have time to listen to the whole of the Watermuisc, so I concentrated on the Suite in F major! The movements included are based on dances - Air, Minuet, Bouree and Hornpipe. Played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conduced by Nicholas McGegan, this was a real blast from the past and not something I would normally chose to listen to.

So much of it was familiar! I remember doing a simplified version of the Bouree with the school orchestra when I was about 13, and I’m sure I must have done some of other movements when I used to play the violin! All in all, it’s an excellent example of the music of the time. Apparently, it is thought the suites were composed to accompany what were known as water parties, on the Thames.

According to the CD insert:

“The three discrete Suites of the Watermusick present an abundance of festive panoply, an amalgam of extroverted instrumentation, unambiguous tunefulness, and vigorous rhythms.” – George Gelles

Day 21: Saint-Saens Piano Concerto no.2

Day 21: Saint-Saens Piano Concerto no.2

Huh! What did I say? Something by Saint-Saens to listen to each week!! So true!

This has been an interesting one! Managed to watch quite a lot of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, so I’ve actually heard quite a lot of music. I wasn’t sure which of the 5 Saint-Saens piano concertos to listen to (it’s a boxed set of containing all 5), so I asked Shrimp to chose for me. The odd thing here is that he chose no.2, which just happens to be the one played by the 2010 winner of that same competition, Lara Melda!

I absolutely love all the concertos – but then I am a Saint-Saens fan! According to the CD insert, no.2 is the most popular of the concertos, and, rather astonishingly, was composed in about 3 weeks in 1868! The premiere was conducted by Anton Rubinstein, with Saint-Saens himself at the piano. Unlike traditional concertos, the movements are slow-quick-quick, and begins with a Bach-style toccata solo, the middle movement shows the influence of Mendelssohn, and the finale is a run-away tarantella, showing the influence of Offenbach!

Strangely, I’ve been wondering lately whatever happened to a book I ordered; this is strange because I had completely forgotten about it until yesterday and was about to chase it when lo and behold it arrived today! Anyway, it’s Saint-Saens: his life and art, by Watson Lyle, published in 1923. Ironically, it has come from a public library in the States, via Betterworldbooks!

Anyway, as you can imagine, Lyle has quite a lot to say about all of Saint-Saens’ work. Here’s a snippet about the 2nd piano concerto:

“The second movement, Allegro Scherzando, is airily graceful in character […] It is in six-eight throughout, and the colour impression of ethereal elusiveness is created at the outset by the scoring of the strings, pizzicato, while tympani denote the rhythm. At bar 5 the pianoforte enters with a theme of elfin capriciousness, a veritable Danse de Puck…” !

Well, if only we used rich, descriptive language like that today!

He goes on to say:

“The rhythm […] is so compelling that I have heard audiences, even of the best-regulated brands, tapping their feet pp. in sympathy with the musicians!”

Tut tut!

To sum up, if you haven’t heard this piece, do go listen, it’s really worth it!