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Tabea Zimmermann

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

October 15

Brilliance Left Us Aghast

The Boston Musical IntelligencerCzech conductor Jakub Hrůša arrived for his debut week at the BSO Thursday in a fury of blood and thunder in an all-Eastern European program that pictorialized the orchestra’s sonic depth and breadth. Along with him came a Boston favorite soloist, violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, making his 12th appearance (by program) at Symphony Hall (curiously, since his debut in 1988 with Seiji Ozawa, he has never performed here with the BSO Music Director conducting). There were two works by Czech composers on the bill, the first being the opener, Smetana’s Šárka, the third number in the six-entry Má Vlast cycle of tone poems. While some of the cycle, as it happens the most popular, depict the natural world of Bohemia, others go into history and legend, and Šárka is one of the latter. The story is one of those “hell hath no fury…” revenge tales whereby the titulaire, leader of a band of female warriors, having been jilted, takes out an invading force of men by first luring them in, pretending to be a damsel in distress, then slipping them a mickey and having her forces come in and slaughter every man jack of them. For those familiar with the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, this can be understood as the nightmare version of Princess Ida. Smetana does an excellent job in this nine-minute bloodbath of finding music to characterize Šárka’s rage, her false siren-call of distress (she has herself tied to a tree)—in a marvelous clarinet solo silkily performed by William Hudgins—and her victim’s hapless infatuation (carried by the cellos, whom Hrůša had stand as a section in the call-out). After a big-bang opening on the “rage” theme, Hrůša did all the right things with dynamics and tempo shifts; we especially applaud the delicacy of the cymbals (Kyle Brightwell, we think) in the march-like tune of the invaders. Zimmermann next provided a very splendid performance—in front of a music stand, interestingly, which he only appeared to consult when turning the page—of the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 (which, of course, used to be just “the” Bartók Violin Concerto until the score of No. 1 turned up in the 1950s). Written in 1937 after the composer had completed Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, it comes near the beginning of Bartók’s final compositional phase, in which the noisy modernism of his middle period softened and his natural Romantic inclinations were allowed to reassert themselves (no, this was not a result of his pandering to American tastes, as this all preceded his emigration to the US). The sound of this fabulous piece, probably one of the top three violin concertos of the 20th century, is the essential Bartók sound, opening with a beautiful, modally-inflected but regularly shaped melody over gentle harp strums, with passagework that introduces some of the more jagged and harmonically crunchy features of the 1920s. The score is also replete with Bartók’s innovations in sonority, especially in string technique: the snap-pizzicato, col legno scraping, and so forth. These sounds are more convincing in some places than others, where they still, after all these years, have an air of arbitrariness about them, though in the slow movement, they were absolutely perfectly placed. There is razzle-dazzle aplenty in the solo part, and Zimmermann gave it the full measure of brilliance and, where required, grit. In the slow movement variations on another exquisite melody, Hrůša kept the accompaniment, except in the couple of loud ones, to a hushed delicatissimo, to great effect, as where the celesta floated to the surface in a few riffs torn from MFSPC. The finale, whose theme is based on the first movement’s, took off seamlessly from the slow movement and sailed confidently with all sheets. Zimmermann engaged in silent dialogue with the orchestra, his head bobbing their part (and he sometimes provided his own percussion accompaniment with his foot). This was obviously a labor of love on everyone’s part, so we feel a little hesitant to note that there were places where the wind passages lacked edge and brilliance. All in all, though, a superior production, which the audience acknowledged with enough curtain-calls to generate an encore, in the shape of Ernst Schliephake’s astonishing transcription/arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor, op. 23 No. 5, with more notes in it than one can imagine anyone having the fingers to play, but Zimmermann knocked everyone’s socks off doing so. After intermission, the blood-and-thunder theme resumed, with the thunder part taken by the Halloween-comes-early presentation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s rendition of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (though it was St. John’s Eve, and not All-Hallows Eve that Mussorgsky was writing about). While Rimsky’s posh orchestration is a showpiece of color, which the BSO provided aplenty while Hrůša loved the big build-ups, we were disappointed that this young European conductor didn’t bring the increasingly popular revival of Mussorgsky’s raw, vibrant original to Symphony Hall with him. If you want to know about the crackle and edge of the original, in contrast to the rough-edges-polished away Rimsky version, go no farther than Valery Gergiev’s window-rattling treatment with the BBC Orchestra at the 2004 Proms, here . The closing work was one new to the BSO, Leoš Jánaček’s 1915 three-movement orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba, a piece reflecting Jánaček’s infatuation with pan-Slavism and Russia in particular (ever so slightly misplaced here, as will be noted). It is based on a story by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, about a family of Cossacks from Ukraine (not Russia, at least not yet), headed by the eponymous father of the clan. The three sanguinary movements depict the deaths of each of the father’s two sons, the first at the hands of the old man himself for having betrayed their nationalist faith by siding with the Poles who then ruled Ukraine (yes! The Poles were once rulers of others), the second by the Poles after a torture session, and finally the father, burned at the stake. The orchestration is vivid, lurid even (the second son’s torture is evinced by the cries of the E-flat clarinet, a torturous instrument if ever there was one, though Jánaček’s rather oddly elegant line, perfectly rendered by Thomas Martin, pales in comparison to the shrieks Mahler and Shostakovich elicited on the instrument). Hrůša’s leadership again emphasized dynamic contrasts, extremes even, which surely would have pleased the composer. The brass section was in its glory, with all hands on deck (the orchestral forces for the Smetana were large, but for Mussorgsky and Jánaček they were enormous: we lost count of how many contrabasses were on stage, and for good measure James David Christie was at the organ console). Jakub Hrusa and Frank Peter Zimmerman (Hilary Scott photo) Truth to tell, we have some issues with this work. First, the musical pictorialism was not as acute as Smetana’s: Jánaček at this point was really more of an opera composer and this story seemed to want a libretto. This, combined with Jánaček’s general disjointed style—the only really sustained bit of music was the nationalistic peroration at the end—made for a degree of confusion over where one is at any moment, though there were some spectacularly wonderful chordal progressions here and there. Second, and one hesitates to put this forward, there is a sense of queasiness, of moral objection that this piece engenders, not about the violence depicted, but the unquestioning nationalistic fanaticism that Jánaček seems to be celebrating here (we haven’t read the Gogol, so there may have been an appreciation for the psychological and social cost of flinging and sacrificing one family member after another into the cauldron, but there certainly was no such countervailing weight in the music). As an exercise in pure orchestral brilliance and sonic impact, it’s a great piece, but as an artistic statement it left us a bit aghast. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Brilliance Left Us Aghast appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

parterre box

October 6

Less than meets the eye

Born on this day in 1907 legendary costume designer Jean Louis. // Born on this day in 1820 soprano Jenny Lind. // Born on this day in 1880 mezzo-soprano Julia Culp. // Born on this day in 1887 soprano Maria Jeritza. // Born on this day in 1882 composer Karol Szymanowski. // Happy 81st birthday tenor Vasile Moldoveanu. // Happy 81st birthday also to conductor Leopold Hager. // Happy 73rd birthday composer Udo Zimmermann. // Happy 66th birthday tenor Keith Lewis. //

Tribuna musical

August 29

Gluck´s “Orpheus and Eurydice”: Juventus presents sad travesty

Some operas have changed musical history: Christoph Willibald Gluck´s "Orfeo ed Euridice" is one of them. Born in 1714, his operatic career started in typical Italian form following the Metastasio model of "opera seria" based on myth or ancient history: recitatives and florid arias generally sung by castrati and sopranos; almost no duets or choirs or ensembles. From 1741 to 1760 he wrote 22. And from 1755 to 1761 a series of nine French comedy operas mainly for Schönbrunn, in a very different style from the Italian ones. So when we arrive to 1762 he had already created 32 operas in the two predominant styles of those times. He was 48 years old, a mature man. It´s worth mentioning that in 1761 he had composed an astonishing "ballet d´action", "Don Juan" , scenario by Angiolini based on Molière, with very dramatic music in the scene where Don Juan falls to Hell. This showed that the right literary stimulus could change Gluck´s music, and in fact it was the poet Raniero Calzabigi´s libretto on the old Greek myth that compelled the musician to write differently. Indeed there are basic changes: the melodies in the arias are simple but expressive, with little ornament; there´s a lot of choral writing; and the "recitativo secco" (only with harpsichord) is substituted with the "accompagnato" of strings. The opera is short in three succinct acts, not overlong as many "opere serie" were. There´s a French influence in the inclusion of dances. But Orfeo is still a contralto castrato, not a tenor. Of course the Orphic myth was essential when opera was invented by the Camerata Fiorentina: Jacopo Peri´s "Euridice", dated 1600, is the first opera that survived those seminal birth years. And Claudio Monteverdi´s "La favola d´Orfeo" (1607, Mantova), was a giant step forward. Gluck´s "Orfeo..." was called a reform opera, but he came back to Metastasio´s model several times. However, his "Orfeo..." had an impact, even if most composers followed the old model, and in 1767 Calzabigi spurred him on and the composer wrote "Alceste" for Vienna, going far beyond the reforms of "Orfeo...". As Gluck wrote in the preface: "I have striven to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry by means of expression and by following the situations of the story". And then, from 1774 to 1779, came his period in Paris, where he succeeded Rameau as the greatest creator of French tragic operas, including an adaptation by Moline of Calzabigi´s "Orfeo...". There Orfeo is a tenor, and some wonderful pieces are added: the Dance of the Furies (derived from the closing pages of "Don Juan") and the beautiful Eurydice aria, "Cet asile aimable et tranquille", plus an expansion of the dances in the final Tableau. Berlioz adapted in 1859 the tenor part to the contralto voice of Pauline Viardot, and a new tradition began. This transposition soon was used also for the Italian version. In fact, many recordings have opted for this change (e.g., Horne with Solti), until more recently historicism tried something else: a countertenor substituting for the castrato. But baritones (Bacquier in BA, Fischer-Dieskau on records) have also sung the part, attracted by its serene beauty. The numerous recordings still list more contraltos than countertenors, and at the Colón from 1924 to 1953 sang contraltos or mezzos; then, Bacquier in 1966 and mezzo Zimmermann in 1977. But in 2009 Franco Fagioli sang the countertenor version at the Coliseo, where the Colón did its season. And this brings me to the musical side of the current presentation of "Orfeo..." at the Avenida by Juventus Lyrica, for they opted also for a countertenor, Martín Oro. Eurydice has always been sung by sopranos, and Amor is a light soprano, also as usual. The 37-member historicist orchestra conducted by Hernán Schvartzman was very good; it included a cornetto and chalumeau (an early clarinet). Although Oro sang unevenly, with hooty highs, he knows the style; as Maria Goso (Eurydice) showed great improvement compared to her Merry Widow and Victoria Gaeta was sprightly and accurate, and furthermore the Choir under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was enthusiastic, we seemed to have the makings of a correct evening, but it wasn´t so. A poor version, far too fast, of the famous "Che farò senza Euridice", didn´t help. Again the culprit was the production, for María Jaunarena had an unfortunate wrong concept. Instead of respecting Calzabigi and Gluck, she invented an ugly transposition to current times. At the start, Orfeo composes helped by a violin. Eurydice salutes him, goes out; a screech and crash: she is dead. Then a medical team attempts to revive a naked girl quite unlike Goso, to no avail, whilst heavy pseudomedical data is both yelled and projected, interfering the brilliant Gluck Overture. And then, the opera starts, interrupted many times, for Jaunarena has incorporated orphic texts and writings on the Orpheus myth, mostly recited by Oreste Valente in clear Italian, plus several men and women; a particularly tasteless frequent parading of the dead girl was irritating. About twenty minutes of the music are ruined, and as several dances are cut (presumably to spend less), not much was left to be enjoyed. The costumes by Jaunarena are nondescript, and both the lighting and stage designs of Gonzalo Córdova were negative. When you can´t recognize an opera looking at the stage something is seriously amiss. And it was. For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

August 3

Zimmermann´s “Die Soldaten”: major challenge well met

On Tuesday the HERALD offered its readers valuable background written by Cristiana Visan on the Colón´s Latin American première of one of the most complex Twentieth Century operas: Bernd Alois Zimmermann´s "Die Soldaten" ("The Soldiers"). She included statements by Darío Lopérfido, Artistic Director of the Colón; Baldur Brönnimann, conductor; and Pablo Maritano, régisseur. This reviewer was at the première that same day; the hand programme also has interesting reflexions by Brönnimann and Maritano. On the present article I will assume that you read Visan and won´t repeat facts. First, it´s worth stressing that its presentation was an audacious bet by Lopérfido; it is also the only première of the operatic subscription series. Discarding the utopic original wishes of the composer (it was never done), the revised work nevertheless needs the full resources of an important opera house. My reference is the DVD of Stuttgart Opera´s 1989 staging by Harry Kupfer, conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky. Although their stage is smaller than the Colón´s, the set by Wolf Münzner was built on three tiers permitting when required the simultaneity of three different actions. And his costumes accorded with the original ambience of the Lenz text, written in 1776, so the Countess, e.g., is dressed as in those Pre-Revolutionary times an aristocrat was, with a big hoop-skirt. Zimmermann has conserved the stilted, ceremonious aspects of the Lenz text. For we are still in the Ancien Régime and forms were kept, even in battle. That´s why Kupfer (an avantgarde régisseur) respected dressing codes: because they agree with the words. Maritano, as so many nowadays, transports us to Zimmermann´s time, and that way the text clashes with what we see. Mind you, those decadent years pictured by Lenz nurtured snake eggs that would mature shortly after. He was part of the Sturm und Drang movement and he saw the future, as Büchner did years later in his "Woyzeck". It isn´t irrelevant to know that Lenz died insane and Zimmermann committed suicide. It´s worth mentioning that Wolfgang Rihm wrote "Lenz", an interesting chamber opera on the writer´s final period; we saw it at the San Martín some years ago. And that Manfred Gurlitt, a neglected composer, wrote his own "Wozzeck" (1926) and "Die Soldaten"! (1930). Of course, Berg´s "Wozzeck" was a great influence on Zimmermann, and there are several parallels (homages, in fact) between what may be the most important opera of the Twentieth Century and "Die Soldaten"., although they are also very contrasting: Berg wrote a social drama, Zimmermann a dystopic indictment of the brutal human race. He made me think of the Resnais film in which Henri Laborit insisted on the influence of the reptilian part of our brain; for evolution is very slow, it is still there and leads to unspeakable acts. Half a century has elapsed since "Die Soldaten" was premièred. It retains its power to shock and impact, but it doesn´t move as "Wozzeck" does. Strange, Marie is the main female role in both. Musically, "Die Soldaten" is fully dodecaphonic, whilst most of "Wozzeck" isn´t; both are based on formal structures that are only apparent to the studious scholar. In "Die Soldaten" the brutality is much more explicit and the search for effect is evident. In this opera the soldiers are all beasts; only one voice admonishes them: Eisenhardt, the Padre, tells them: "if these girls are whores it is because you made them so". Marie´s sister, Charlotte, warns her against Desportes, but isn´t helped by their father, nor Stolzius´s mother. However, I don´t find Marie innocent; she is coquettish and is easily conquered by Desportes. The vocality is often quite unpleasant and badly written, with constant unnecessary jumps and absurd insistence on the highest range. There´s very little lyricism. The main musical quality is the handling of the huge orchestra with domineering percussion, and the ability to superimpose as much as three simultaneous vocal monologues and dialogues, each with a different rhythm. Also some moments of spatiality. And the pandemonium of the great soldier scene really stuns. Brönnimann worked hard and after weeks of intensive rehearsals got very good results from orchestra and stage. However, there was a snafu: in the scene between the Countess and her son something went wrong (tenor or conductor) and the scene had to restart. The six foreign singers made their local debut. Susanne Elmark was an admirable Marie; she looks the part and has the vocal agility to vanquish the highest range. And she acts with intensity. Tom Randle (Desportes) was taxed by the tremendous demands but did well. Frode Olsen (Wesener, Marie´s father) showed authority and a solid bass-baritone. Leigh Melrose was an anguished Stolzius and Julia Riley an adequate Charlotte. Only Noemí Nadelmann was below par as the Countess, her voice alarmingly frayed. Apart from Santiago Ballerini´s sole intervention as the son of the Countess (perhaps not his fault), the Argentines were remarkably good, especially Gustavo Gibert (Eisenhardt), Alejandro Meerapfel (Captain Mary) and Eugenia Fuente (Stolzius´ mother). Nazareth Aufe managed with well-placed voice the extremely high range of Captain Pirzel. In the picture were Virginia Correa Dupuy (Wesener´s Mother), Luciano Garay (Captain Haudy) and Christian De Marco (Colonel Obrist). I agree with Lopérfido: "Enrique Bordolini has built a great iron structure: it is a formidable stage design". It has some resemblance to what La Fura del Baus did in Enesco´s "Oedipe". Those cubicles in several tiers allow Maritano to fill them with vivid pictures. However, although he disclaims that his staging stresses graphic depictions, there´s plenty of faked sex acts and most are beside the point. The interaction of the characters was observed with acuity, and some scenes were stunning. The smallness of the cubicles sometimes was an obstacle. The costumes of Sofía Di Nunzio were quite good if you accept the transposition in time. The added videos didn´t make much of a difference. All in all, a necessary venture and an experience to have, though you need strong nerves. Some traditional members of the audience left in the interval, but most stayed and applauded enthusiastically at the end. For Buenos Aires Herald

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