326. Franz Liszt - Transcendental Studies (1852)
Title: The Complete Etudes
Performed by Claudio Arrau
Claudio Arrau, the Chilean pianist, has no peer in the Transcendental Studies. His technique is startlingly good for a septuagenarian, and the sweep and inspiration that he brings to every study is utterly magnificent. Few play Wilde Jagd more relentlessly (the only faster performances I know of are by Kissin, Berman and Richter, but none makes as much music out of it). The drive and fury of the Allegro Agitato Molto is unique, the poetry and sonority of Hamonies du Soir almost unreal. The thunderous octaves in Eroica impress mightily too. Yet most of all, it is hard to imagine Chasse-Neige sounding more harrowing and dramatic than it is rendered here. Some of his tempo choices are controversial: Feux Follets and Mazeppa are slower than the norm. That said, I find Mazeppa particularly effective at this pace -- it sounds like a tone poem in Arrau's hands, and not a mere gunfire of notes. Feux Follets too is unusually delicate, though Richter may still top him in this piece. Arrau's discography is huge and full of riches, yet these recordings deserve to be listed among his greatest achievements of all.
The Transcendental Etudes (French: Études d'exécution transcendante), S.139, are a series of twelve compositions written for solo piano by Franz Liszt in 1852. The 1852 version is the revision of an even more technically difficult 1837 version, which in turn was the elaboration of a set of studies written in 1826.
The Transcendental Etudes contain extreme technical difficulties, such as the right hand configuration and left hand leaps in the Transcendental Etude No. 5.
Boris Berezovsky plays one of the most difficult pieces for the piano: The Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 4 "Mazeppa."
327. Giuseppe Verdi –
Performed by Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
with Dirk Sagemuller, Kurt Moll, Walter Gullino, Olive Fredricks, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Piero Cappuccilli, Hanna Schwarz, Placido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, Luigi De Corato
Conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini
This is not one of the most famous recordings of Verdi's warhorse, but in my opinion it is the best. The great Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini stays away from the melodramatic caricature of opera that this can easily turn into, and brings out the dark, brooding colors of the drama and of the music. He combines lyricism with the greatest dramatic power, at speeds which feel exactly right, even though they are slower than most. And not only does he have a superb individual view of the piece, he is a sensitive accompanist, too, giving the excellent Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra its full dominance without drowning out the singers. And what singers! The velvety, golden voice of Piero Cappuccilli, used with unfailing intelligence and musicality; the warm, gorgeous voice of Plácido Domingo; and perhaps most stunning of all, the bewitching lyric soprano of Ileana Cotrubas, the best Gilda I have ever heard. These singers may not hit the stratospheric unwritten high notes on the Bonynge recording with Pavarotti, Milnes and Sutherland, but they do offer consistently refined, thoughtful and beautiful singing. Cotrubas' radiant singing alone is worth the modest price of this set. The great Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov makes a riveting, dark-toned Sparafucile; Elena Obraztsova sings Maddalena perfectly well, though not on the level of her colleagues. Kurt Moll is cast luxuriously as Monterone. At mid-price, with full libretto and translation and with excellent work from the VPO and chorus, this is a Rigoletto that must be in all Verdi collections.
Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.
Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse. He later explained that "It contains extremely powerful positions ... The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages". It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo's play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.
Luciano Pavarotti sings La donna e mobile from act III of Verdi's Rigoletto:
328. Robert Schumann –
Symphony no. 4 (1851)
Symphony no. 4 (1851)
Title: Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Overture, Scherzo & Finale
Performed by Staatskapelle Dresden
Conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch
Many music critics, including those writing for the esteemed Penguin Guide to Classics, have observed that Wolfgang Sawallisch's early 1970s Schumann symphony cycle with the Dresden Staatskapelle simply has no peer. One of the obvious reasons is the superb acoustics of the Dresden Staatskapelle's long-time recording studio, Dresden's Lukaskirche, which has been recognized for a long time as among Europe's finest. Yet another reason is the glorious sound of the Dresden Staatskapelle itself, which has a distinctively vibrant, warm sound that is quite similar to the Wiener Philharmoniker's. But I suspect the most obvious reason remains Wolfgang Sawallisch's passionate interpretations, which are distinctively poles apart from more exuberant interpretations from the likes of Sinopoli and Bernstein, and the relatively austere ones offered from Szell.
The Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120, composed by Robert Schumann, was completed in 1841 (first version). Schumann heavily revised the symphony in 1851, and it was this version that reached publication.
Clara Schumann, Robert's widow, later claimed on the first page of the score to the symphony—as published in 1882 as part of her husband's complete works— that the symphony had merely been sketched in 1841 but was only fully orchestrated ("vollständig instrumentiert") in 1851. However, this was untrue, and Johannes Brahms, who greatly preferred the earlier version of the symphony, published that version in 1891 despite Clara's strenuous objections.
Schumann: Symphony No.4 d-moll, Op.120
329. Johannes Brahms –
Performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Piano by Gerald Moore, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Sviatoslav Richter and Daniel Barenboim
Many informed music lovers know Brahms primarily through his large scale works: the symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and German Requiem. There is a tendency to overlook Brahms as a composer of songs. This is unfortunate as it tends to obscure the lyrical, intimate side of Brahms, throughout his work, by concentrating the listener's attention on Brahms as a master of large-scale form. Brahms's approximately 200 songs show a more intimate side of the composer and are well-worth hearing. They are lovely in their own right, and they will give the listener a deeper understanding of the Brahms of the symphonies and other extended pieces.
This six-CD set of Brahms lieder offers an overview of Brahms'song output from the beginning of his career to the end. Brahms, indeed, composed songs throughout his career. In these CDs, Dietrich Fisher- Dieskau is accompanied by four pianists: Gerald Moore, Wolfgang Swallisch, Daniel Barenboim, and Sviatoslav Richter. Thus it presents the listener with a variety of sylistic approaches to the accompaniment of lieder.
Most of Brahms's songs are simple and melodic. Brahms generally focuses on the mood of the song as a whole and does not try to shape phrases around specific words. Some of the songs will appear spare to those knowing the songs of Schubert or Schumann. Many show the great influence of folk music. Brahms's themes are, broadly, love found and love lost with the latter predominating as the composer grows older. Brahms tended to set texts by poets whom he knew or who grew up in his own home town of Hamburg.
Many of Brahms' better-known songs are in this collection, including, of course, the "Lullaby." Fischer-Dieskau sings Brahms's near-final work the "Four Serious Songs" opus 121 with great solemnity. This work was written upon the death of Clara Schumann. Another well-known song is "Regenlied" which Brahms used as the theme for the finale of his first sonata for violin and piano. There is much to be discovered in this compilation by repeated listening.
I particularly enjoyed the performance of Brahms's rarely-performed song-cycle "Die Schone Magelone" opus 33 in which Fischer-Dieskau is accompanied by Richter. This is a large-scale dramatic and romantic work, unlike most of the shorter songs. In it Brahms poured forth intimate feelings to a degree rare in the works he composed before or after. The cycle sets 15 poems by Ludwig Tieck and tells a story of medieval courtly love lost and, ultimately, won . It is intense and personal music.
I found it useful to get to know Brahms's songs through a cross-section beautifully performed by Fischer-Dieskau rather than to approach them piecemeal through individual recordings. Until recently, this set was available on EMI at a price nearly double the current price of the collection on Brilliant, making this new Brilliant release a real find. This set will open to the listener the world of Brahms' songs. This compilation should be irrestible to lovers of art song. It will show those familiar with Brahms's more famous works a new side of the composer.
Neue Liebeslieder, Op. 65 (New Love Songs), also known as Neue Liebesliederwalzer, written by Johannes Brahms, is a collection of Romantic pieces written for four solo voices and four hands on the piano. The Neue Liebeslieder were written during the Romantic period between 1869 and 1874. The text of the songs is adapted from folk songs of various areas of Europe including Turkey, Poland, Latvia, and Sicily. The text for songs 1 through 14 were translated and compiled by Georg Friedrich Daumer in his poem series, Polydora; the text for the fifteenth and final song, entitled Zum Schluß (In Conclusion), was written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The great mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig sings Brahms' lied "Vergebliche Ständchen" with Gerald Moore at the piano. From a 1961 BBC broadcast:
330. Giuseppe Verdi –
Il trovatore (1853)
Il trovatore (1853)
Title: Il Trovatore
Performer: Sherrill Milnes, Elizabeth Bainbridge, Fiorenza Cossotto, Leontyne Price, Nelson Taylor, et al.
Orchestra: New Philharmonia
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
With an all-star lineup of experienced Verdians in this 1970 recording, one can't go wrong. But there are other recordings in which one can go more right. Compared to her Trovatore on RCA only 11 years before, Leontyne Price seems self-consciously grand, her plush voice sailing through the opera like visiting royalty and actually growing labored under the strain of sustaining such an imperial manner. Fiorenza Cossotto's slightly shrill, somewhat scary mezzo is at home in playing the witch Azucena even if more vocal weight would be ideal. Plácido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes are customary adept Verdians, though conductor Zubin Mehta seems unable to give the music flexibility and plasticity without losing momentum.
Enrico Caruso once said that all it takes for successful performance of Il trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world. On many different occasions, this opera and its music have been featured in various forms of popular culture and entertainment. Scenes of comic chaos play out over a performance of Il trovatore in the Marx Brothers's film, A Night at the Opera. Luchino Visconti used a performance of Il trovatore at La Fenice opera house for the opening sequence of his 1954 film Senso. As Manrico sings his battle cry in "Di quella pira", the performance is interrupted by the answering cries of Italian nationalists in the audience. In Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism, Millicent Marcus proposes that Visconti used this operatic paradigm throughout Senso, with parallels between the opera's protagonists, Manrico and Leonora, and the film's protagonists, Ussoni and Livia
Preston Opera Chorus sing the well known "Anvil Chorus" from Verdi's Il Trovatore. From the year 2000 production Conducted by Carl Penlington-Williams and produced by Harold Cartmell:
331. Giuseppe Verdi –
La Traviata (1853)
La Traviata (1853)
Title: La Traviata
Performer: Alfredo Kraus, Christopher Keyte, Cynthia Buchan, Henry Newman, et al.
Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
What Muti does in the party scene in the 1st act is unbelievable. His fast tempos fits extremely well. Scotto's voice is, of course, quite different from Votto's recording. I am very found of Scotto's freshness on that recording. She went through this highly difficult score with an apparent easiness that is admirable. On this recording, she is more dense (her tone reminds me Cortubas or maybe it is vice-versa). Nevertheless, it is a wonderful accomplishment. Kraus sounds very similar as his Duke in the Rigoletto recording with Beverly Sills. Incredible fresh voice for his age. Bruson is okay. That duet on the second act is so beautiful that it is very hard to mess up. Votto was Muti's mentor but in this case the apprentice surpassed the master in every single way. If we had Scotto and Bastianini from the Votto recording and Kraus and Muti from this recording, it would be a dream Traviata. Since we don't have that, this is the Traviata that I most listen to, due in great part to Muti.
The first performance of the opera, on 6 March 1853 in Venice's La Fenice, was an utter failure. The day after, Verdi wrote to his friend Muzio in what has now become perhaps his most famous letter: "La Traviata last night a failure. My fault or the singers'? Time will tell." This letter not only implies what Verdi already knew—that the singers, particularly the obese soprano who could never convincingly play a dying consumptive, had failed to "understand his music." But more importantly, this letter captures Verdi's faith that the public ultimately knows what is and is not good art and will pronounce its judgment in good time.
After some revisions between 1853 and May 1854, mostly affecting Acts 2 and 3, the opera was presented again in Venice, this time at the Teatro San Benedetto. This performance was a critical success, largely due to Maria Spezia-Aldighieri's portrayal of Violetta.
On 24 May 1856 the revised version was presented at Her Majesty's Theatre in London followed on 3 December of that year by its premiere in New York.
Today, the opera has become immensely popular and it is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It is third on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America, behind only Madama Butterfly and La bohème.
Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas sing the Brindisi from Act I of La Traviata. From the film by Franco Zefirelli:
332. Franz Liszt –
Piano Sonata in B minor (1853)
Piano Sonata in B minor (1853)
Title: Sviatoslav Richter joue Franz Liszr
Performer: Sviatoslav Richter
Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) is numbered among the finest pianists of the 20th century. He exhibited all the best traits of the Russian school of playing: dynamism, lyrical expressiveness, and a wide range of tonal color. Combined with his typical thoughtfulness, subtlety, and attention to style, these qualities assured Richter of a distinguished international career. For many listeners, indeed, he was the paragon of balance among virtuosos, the pianist who exhibited the greatest equality among the elements across his musical palette. The West first became aware of Richter through recordings made in the 1950s. He was not allowed to tour the U.S. until 1960, and then created a sensation. Touring, however, was not Richter’s forte. He preferred an intimate concert venue, and in later years took to playing in small, darkened halls, sometimes with only a small lamp lighting his piano. The centerpiece of this release, the B minor Sonata of Liszt, was recorded live in Carnegie Hall on May 18, 1965 when Richter was at the height of his powers, and only one week after Vladimir Horowitz had appeared on the same stage for his famous "Return Recital".
The Sonata was composed in 1852 and 1853. At this point in his life, Liszt’s career as a traveling virtuoso had almost entirely subsided as he had been influenced towards leading the life of a composer rather than a performer by Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein almost five years earlier.Liszt’s life was established in Weimar and he was living a comfortable lifestyle, composing, and occasionally performing, entirely by choice rather than necessity. The sonata was dedicated to Robert Schumann, in return for Schumann's dedication of his Fantasie in C, Op. 17 (1836) to Liszt.
Yundi Li performing Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178: Lento Assai - Allegro Energico (1st Movement):
333.Robert Schumann –
Scenen aus Goethes Faust (1844-1853)
Scenen aus Goethes Faust (1844-1853)
Title: Scenes from Goethe's Faust
Performer: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Piers, Elizabeth Harwood & John Shirley Quirk
Orchestra: Wandsworth School Boys' Choir, Aldeburgh Festival Singers & English Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Benjamín Britten
Schumann's large-scale choral works have garnered surprisingly little interest from record companies and concert planners - generally, they might be second-rate Schumann, but second-rate Schumann is still first-rate music. Schumann himself turned down the opportunity to write a full-scale opera on the Faust subject, but he used the last scene for an independent cantata, composed in 1844 and premiered in 1849. The success of this performance lead him to compose three new scenes specifically dealing with Gretchen, and in the following year another three on Faust part II - but in the final work the scenes were reversed so as to fit Goethe's work. Thus, the work was more or less written back to front, with the ouverture written last, in 1853 - and it was never performed complete in his lifetime. It is for the most part an inspired work, however, although it has a sometimes tendency to lapse into foursquare, four-part harmony, underlined by at times somewhat clumsy orchestration (the topic of Schumann's orchestrational abilities is a much discussed one, but while most of the work at hand is effectively scored, one cannot really avoid noticing a certain sameness of textures).
The performance is superb, however, with respect to singing, playing and conducting. Britten whips up white-hot intensity and forward momentum as required, and manages impressively to convey the impression of an extremely cogent, well-planned work, and the performances are flexible and alive (although purists might balk at the freedom he takes with tempi, there's no doubt that he makes the work much more effective than it could have been). He's got a starry cast of vocalists at his hands, and they perform uniformly as good as one might have hoped. Fischer-Dieskau is at his very best, providing some radiant singing, powerful and sumptuous. Harwood is affective and sings with a great range of color, and Pears characterizes Ariel and Seraphicus with wisdom and feeling. Shirley-Quirk might be a tad light and amiable as Mephistopheles, but the quality of his singing is not in doubt. Equal praise is due to the rest of the cast, and there are no qualms about sound quality either. This set can, in short, be very strongly recommended.
Schumann's work on what he labeled an oratorio began just over a decade after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's completion of Part Two of the dramatic poem Faust in 1832, the year of Goethe's death. Many contemporary readers of Faust found Goethe's epic poem daunting and difficult to grasp. Goethe himself declared only Mozart fit to write the music for Faust (though Mozart died in 1791, almost 20 years prior to the completion of Part One of Faust). As Schumann, thus, explained the felt weight of the task before him in an 1845 letter to Felix Mendelssohn: "[A]ny composer would not only be judged by his treatment of one of the seminal and most-widely acclaimed works in German literature, but would also be setting himself up to be compared to Mozart." Yet despite Schumann's expressed reservations about the work, it has been labeled Schumann's "magnum opus." Schumann is "[d]eeply sensitive to the all-inclusiveness of Goethe’s drama[.]" From the work's dark and tense overture, to its elegant and tranquil conclusion, Schumann opens wide "a manifold musical world" that coherently draws together elements of "lied, horror opera, grand opera, oratorio, and church music.
The Tölzer Knabenchor is singing a scene of Robert Schuman's "Scenes from Goethe's Faust": "Welch ein Morgenwölkchen schwebet". Live recording from the Berlin Philharmonie, Dec. 31, 1994. Tölzer Knabenchor, Bryn Terfel (bassbariton), Swedish Radio Choir, Berliner Philharmoniker directed by Claudio Abbado:
334. Hector Berlioz –
La damnation de Faust (1846)
La damnation de Faust (1846)
Title: La Damnation de Faust
Performer: Jules Bastin, Josephine Veasey, Richard van Allan and Nicolai Gedda with Ambrosian Singers
Orchestra: London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Colin Davis
La Damnation de Faust is not an opera; it is not meant for the stage. It is a concert work, not a theatrical piece. It can be adapted for the stage, of course, and has been very successfully many times.
The male singers in this recording are hard to beat. Gedda in particular gives one of his best performances on record. The female singers are not the best, but they are very good. The chorus is also very good. All do reasonably well with the French diction and accents, though their mainly British heritage comes through from time to time.
Not enough can be said about the orchestra. No other recording quite matches the playing of the LSO. Most of the other recordings use French orchestrs, and the French simply were not up to the same standard as the British when the recording was made.
Colin Davis conducts a very lively performance. La Damnation features some of the most dymanic and bombastic music available, particularly in the Radetsky march. And Davis does not dissapoint there. He leads a performance that is equally as good in the action scenes and the dances as it is in the quiet moments of Faust's dispair and anguish.
All in all, sounds like a 5 star rating. But, I only give it four stars for two reasons. While Davis is very competent in every section, I don't feel like he successfully puts all the pieces together for a cohesive whole. The individual pieces do not flow together very well. He focuses too much on the individual trees and never sees the forest.
The recording is spectacularly captured by any standards. But, Philips could have gone back and made a new digital to audio remastering when they rereleased this in 2001. Instead, they used the same masters that were made with the first CD release in the 1980s. That master has some of the ill effects of early digitalizations, but it is bearable. The editing, though, is terrible. The Philips engineers did a very sloppy job of putting the pieces together. There are many times when I hear what can only be described as a tape splice, and the music thus looses much in terms of consistency and synergy.
The French composer was inspired by a translation of Goethe's dramatic poem Faust and produced a musical work that, like the masterpiece it's based on, defies easy categorization. Conceived at various times as a free-form oratorio and as an opera (Berlioz ultimately called it a "légende dramatique") its travelogue form and cosmic perspective have made it an extreme challenge to stage as an opera. Berlioz himself was eager to see the work staged, but once he did, he conceded that the production techniques of his time were not up to the task of bringing the work to dramatic life. Most of the work's fame has come through concert performances.
Berlioz read Goethe's Faust Part One in 1828, in Gérard de Nerval's translation; "this marvelous book fascinated me from the first", he recalled in his Memoirs. "I could not put it down. I read it incessantly, at meals, in the theatre, in the street." He was so impressed that a suite entitled "Eight Scenes from Faust" became his Opus 1 (1829), though he later recalled all the copies of it he could find. He returned to the material in 1845, to make a larger work, with some additional text by Almire Gandonnière to Berlioz's specifications, that he first called a "concert opera", and as it expanded, finally a "dramatic legend".
Trio and chorus "Quick! It's too late!" (scene 14)
Jean-Pierr Furlan, tenor (Faust), Ruxandra Donose, mezzo soprano (Marguerite) and Sir Willard White, bass-baritone (mephistopheles)
Nikikai Chorus Group & NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Conducted by Charles Dutoit:
335. Franz Liszt –
Les préludes (1856)
Les préludes (1856)
Title: Liszt: Les Preludes, Mazeppa, Ungarische Rhapsodie No.4 & Smetana: Vysehrad, Die Moldau
Performed by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Herbert von Karajan
The revamped digital transfers enable Karajan’s irresistibly virtuosic performances of these Liszt tone poems (some, like Mazeppa . . . are by no means as familiar as they deserve to be) and other orchestral works . . . to register with an impact and brilliance unimaginable on the basis of the original LP releases. Les préludes, of course, was a longstanding Karajan staple; this stunning 1968 account is almost certainly definitive, and nor will you hear any finer versions of the [Rhapsody] included here. These are vintage Karajan offerings, and brightly lit, richly detailed remasterings . . . .
Les préludes is the third of Franz Liszt's twelve symphonic poems. Directed by Liszt himself,  In April 1856 the score, and in January 1865 the orchestral parts, were published by Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig. Among Liszt's symphonic poems, Les préludes is the most popular. During World War II, a fanfare motiv of the march finale was made the signature tune for the Wehrmachtbericht radio report and Die Deutsche Wochenschau newsreel.
The full title "Les préludes (d'après Lamartine)" refers to an Ode of Alphonse de Lamartine's Nouvelles méditations poétiques. The published score also includes a preface, which was not written by Lamartine:
"What else is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown Hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death? - Love is the glowing dawn of all existence; but what is the fate where the first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, the mortal blast of which dissipates its fine illusions, the fatal lightening of which consumes its altar; and where in the cruelly wounded soul which, on issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavour to rest his recollection in the calm serenity of life in the fields? Nevertheless man hardly gives himself up for long to the enjoyment of the beneficent stillness which at first he has shared in Nature's bosom, and when "the trumpet sounds the alarm", he hastens, to the dangerous post, whatever the war may be, which calls him to its ranks, in order at last to recover in the combat full consciousness of himself and entire possession of his energy".
BBC - Proms - 21 August 2009 Royal Albert Hall, London
West Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim:
336. Johannes Brahms –
Piano Trio no. 1 (1854)
Piano Trio no. 1 (1854)
Title: The complete trios
Performed by Beaux Arts Trio
Brahms's chamber music has become a growing source of delight for me, and I'm increasingly coming to see it as his greatest achievement. He did everything, from string sextets to clarinet sonatas, and it was with his chamber music that he truly relaxed and let his gift for lyricism roam free. If his symphonic works were driven by the need to come to terms with and transcend Beethoven, then his chamber music has Schubert's expansive generosity.
These trios are a great introduction, since they are drawn from every stage of Brahms's career. The Beaux Arts Trio offer definitive proof that it's best to go for an established ensemble rather than the superstar collaborations that record companies dream up to try and up their sales figures. There's an instinctive dialogue going on between these three veterans, and Brahms's two later piano trios are exquisitely done. Their approach is relaxed, with none of the reversion to manic keyboard hammering that seems to characterize many interpretations of Brahms's piano trios/quartets/ quintet. Brahms wrote his chamber pieces for clarinet toward the end of his life, and the Beaux Art Trio's interpretation is appropriately, wistfully autumnal. Like Brams's other clarinet music, this piece is very special, and this is the most appealing interpretation I've heard. As for the horn trio, which isn't done by the Beaux Arts Trio, but features an ensemble led by Arthur Grumiaux, they just don't play music this way anymore.
This movement is a sonata form movement in B major, with a broad theme that begins in the cello and piano and builds in intensity. It is counterpoised by a more delicate anacrustic second theme in G sharp minor. This theme appeared only in the second version of the trio, replacing a more complex group of themes and a fugal section in the first version.
The B minor scherzo combines delicate filigree passages with fortissimo outbursts. The exhuberant mood of the first movement returns in the trio section. A tierce de picardie sets the scene for the Adagio. The only alterations Brahms applied to this movement in his revision of the work were a doubling of the climactic trio melody in the cello, and a reworking of the coda.
This movement, returning to B major, opens with a spacious chordal theme in the piano, counterpoised by a middle section in which the cello plays a poignant G sharp minor melody making use of chromaticism. In the first version, a different second theme was used, and an Allegro section was included near the end of the movement.
Back in B minor, the first theme of this movement is highly chromatic and slightly ambiguous tonally, with a very agitated dotted rhythm. This is perhaps the movement Brahms altered the most between the two versions, with the cello's original smooth second theme in F sharp major being replaced by a more vigorous arpeggiated piano theme in D major. After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to minor and ends very turbulently.
J.Brahms - Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op.8 - I. Allegro con brio
Elena Baschkirova, piano, Maxim Vengerov, violin & Boris Pergamenschikow, cello:
337. Franz Liszt –
Piano Concertos nos. 1 & 2 (1849-1856)
Piano Concertos nos. 1 & 2 (1849-1856)
Title: The Two Piano Concertos & The Piano Sonata
Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
with Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter
Conducted by Kiril Kondrashin
Although Sviatoslav Richter's account has power and authority, it's best in the meditative moments, which are almost balletic in their grace. The Russian pianist achieves seamless transitions from one mood to the next, and his countryman on the podium sees to it that there is a wonderful dovetailing of the accompaniment around the solo. Richter is especially magical at the end of the Adagio, where he anticipates the shadings of Liszt's late style.
The main themes of Liszt's first piano concerto are written in a sketchbook dated 1830, when Liszt was nineteen years old. He seems to have completed the work in 1849, yet made further adjustments in 1853. It was first performed at Weimar in 1855, with the composer at the piano and Hector Berlioz conducting. Liszt made yet more changes before publication in 1856. Béla Bartók wrote of the work as being "the first perfect realisation of cyclic sonata form, with common themes being treated on the variation principle".
The movements of the piano concerto are played without a break.
The second concerto, while less virtuosic than the First Piano Concerto, shows far more originality in form. In this respect it reveals a closer link to Liszt's better known symphonic poems in both style and structure. Also, while the final version of the First Concerto could be considered a soloist's showpiece, the Second shows Liszt attempting to confirm his compositional talent while distancing himself from his virtuoso performance origins. Liszt is less generous with technical devices for the soloist such as scales in octaves and contrary motion; instead of an overbearing virtuoso, the pianist often becomes an accompanist to woodwinds and strings. The soloist does not dominate the thematic material—in fact, after the opening, the pianist never has the theme in its original form. Instead, his role is to create, or at least seem to create, inventive variations that lead the listener through a series of thematic transformations. The various pauses and silences are not intended breaks in the musical flow but rather as transitions in the musical discourse. "Organic unity" lends structure to the entire work.
Martha Argerich plays Liszt Piano Concerto No.1, 1st mov.:
338. Hector Berlioz –
Les nuits d'été (1841-1856)
Les nuits d'été (1841-1856)
Title: Les nuits d'été
Performed by New Philharmonia Orchestra
with Dame Janet Baker
Conducted by Sir John Barbirolli
The disc opens with Berlioz's song cycle Les Nuits d'Ete. Some of the reviews I have read have made me wonder what the reviewer was listening to. Although I cannot detect it, one reviewer speaks of the range of the first song as "taxing" Baker--but the first song has one of the more limited ranges of the entire piece! Others say that her French is not as good as Regine Crespin's. Duh. (Crespin approached this music more operatically, while Baker performs it as the first orchestral song cycle.) Still others complain that she is too happy in the first song. I can't say whether this is a definitive recording of this song cycle, but I can say that it is excellent and rewarding. Whenever Baker and Barbirolli got together it was an occasion on which the art of music was honored and served.
Les nuits d'été, op. 7 (Summer Nights) is a song cycle by the French composer Hector Berlioz. It is a setting of six poems by Théophile Gautier. The collection was completed in 1841, and initially composed for either baritone, contralto, or mezzo-soprano, and piano. Berlioz later adapted the work for soprano voice, and also gave it full orchestral accompaniment in 1856; almost all modern performances of the piece use the orchestral rather than the piano version.
The title of the song collection is a nod to the French title of A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Berlioz's beloved Shakespeare.
Danish archive, concert given March 09, 1972 in Frederiksberg.
Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt.
Danish radio symphonic orchestra
Denmarks Radio Concert Hall:
339. César Franck –
Six Pièces, opp. 16-21 (1860)
Six Pièces, opp. 16-21 (1860)
Title: Great Organ Works
Performer: Marie-Claire Alain
Franck was the first great organ composer after Bach. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Just what were all those other guys doing for 125 years? The truth is that great organ music is inextricably bound up with the availability of great organs, and in the mid- to late-19th century a French organ builder named Aristide Cavaille-Coll created what are arguably the finest instruments of that century. These huge instruments, with their almost orchestral variety of sound, encouraged composers like Franck to return to the instrument and create music worthy of their new sonic potential. The first fruits of the new French organ school are here, expertly played and recorded.
More notable still is the set of Six Pièces for organ, written 1860-1862 (although not published until 1868). These compositions, (dedicated to fellow organists and pianists, to his old master Benoist, and to Cavaillé-Coll), remaine part of modern organ repertory and were, according to Rollin Smith, the first major contribution to French organ literature in over a century, and "the most important organ music written since Mendelssohn's." The group includes two of his best-known organ works, the "Prélude, Fugue, et Variation", op. 18 and the "Grande Pièce Symphonique", op. 17.
Douglas Marshall plays the Andantino Serioso from the "Grande Pièce Symphonique", op. 17 at Organpower! 2004 A Millenial Clash of Musical Titans, at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall:
340. Giuseppe Verdi –
Simon Boccanegra (1857)
Simon Boccanegra (1857)
Title: La Traviata
Performed by La Scala Theater Orchestra & Chorus
with Jose Van Dam, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Jose Carreras, Antonio Savastano, Maria Fausta Gallamini, Mirella Freni, Giovanni Foiani
Conducted by Claudio Abbado
This is a recording any lover of Verdi or of all-around opera must have. After the 1881 revisions, this opera ranks among the best of Verdi's mature works, and contains some of his greatest ensembles. Claudio Abbado's interpretation is superlative, combining high drama with great beauty. His tempi are chosen perfectly, and he shapes the music in a way that only the best Verdi conductors can do. Cappuccilli is an outstanding Doge, with a brilliant range of tone and fantastic majesty in the Council Chamber Scene - indeed, he portrays Simon's emotions at every point in the opera with perfect clarity and dramatic creativity - and this is added to a beautiful, golden baritone voice. Mirella Freni is a touching Amelia/Maria, bringing out the emotions of this character vividly. José Carreras is terrific as Gabriele, Nicolai Ghiaurov is a perfect Fiesco, and José van Dam is a chillingly sinister Paolo. Masterful chorus work and superb playing from the La Scala forces.
Simon Boccanegra is an opera with a prologue and three acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Simón Bocanegra (1843) by Antonio García Gutiérrez.
It was first performed at Teatro La Fenice, Venice on 12 March 1857. Given the difficulties with the original plot, a revised version, with text changes by Arrigo Boito, was first performed at La Scala, Milan on 24 March 1881. It is this version, with its Council Chamber scene as the finale to Act 1, that is usually given today.
Metropolitan Opera House March 2009 Simon Boccanegra p 2 with Placido Domingo and Angela Georgiuou:
341. Jacques Offenbach –
Orpheus in the Underworld (1858)
Orpheus in the Underworld (1858)
Title: Orphée aux Enfers
Performed by Lyon National Opera Orchestra & Chorus
with Laurent Naouri, Jennifer Smith, Natalie Dessay, Steven Cole, Patricia Petibon, Ewa Podles, Yann Beuron, Virginie Pochon, Veronique Gens, Etienne Lescroart, Jean-Paul Fouchecourt
Conducted by Marc Minkowski
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of opera's most potent archetypes, the subject of the earliest experiments in the genre by Peri and Monteverdi. But Offenbach's wickedly witty operetta uses it as a vehicle to lampoon stuffy artistic conventions as well as the social and political realities of Paris in the Second Empire. In this sublimely ridiculous scenario, Eurydice is a flighty flirt only too happy to be separated from husband Orpheus, a dullard violin teacher, when Pluto kidnaps her into his realm. At the promptings of the moralistic figure Public Opinion, Orpheus reluctantly plays out the prescribed mythic pattern of trying to reclaim his wife, while a depraved assortment of gods intervenes. The collision here of sacrosanct myth with opera buffa seems almost to anticipate aspects of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos; there is, to be sure, no mistaking an artistic lineage that leads to the romps of Gilbert and Sullivan. Marc Minkowski teases Offenbach's over-the-top parodies (an irreverent quote of Gluck's "Che faro senza Eurydice," for example) and stylistic gear-changes into an irresistibly fizzy concoction, using essentially the original 1858 version with additions from the expanded score of 1874. The orchestra brings out the exuberance of Offenbach's persistent dance rhythms--whether waltz based or in the famous can-can galop of the bacchanalian finale--as well as the tune-rich nature of the score. And the cast sparkles, featuring the crystalline acrobatics of Natalie Dessay's Eurydice, Ewa Podles in dusky, scornful contralto as Public Opinion, and Laurent Naouri as a horny Jupiter--to mention just a few of the treats in store here.
The work, first performed in 1858, is said to be the first classical full-length operetta. Offenbach's earlier operettas were small-scale one-act works, since the law in France did not allow certain genres of full-length works. Orpheus was not only longer, but more musically adventurous than Offenbach's earlier pieces.
This also marked the first time that Offenbach used Greek mythology as a backdrop for one of his buffooneries. The operetta is an irreverent parody and scathing satire on Gluck and his Orfeo ed Euridice and culminates in the risqué galop infernal ("Infernal Galop") that shocked some in the audience at the premiere. Other targets of satire, as would become typical in Offenbach's burlesques, are the stilted performances of classical drama at the Comédie Française and the scandals in society and politics of the Second French Empire.
The Infernal Galop from Act II, Scene 2, is famous outside classical circles as the music for the "Can-can" (to the extent that the tune is widely, but erroneously, called "Can-can") . Saint-Saëns borrowed the Galop, slowed it to a crawl, and arranged it for the strings to represent the tortoise in The Carnival of the Animals.
Marc Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre at Théatre du Chatelet with the great Anne Sophie von Otter:
342. Richard Wagner –
Wesendonck Lieder (1858)
Wesendonck Lieder (1858)
Title: Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 & Wagner: Tristan and Isolde (Prelude to Act I)
Performed by BBC Symphony Orchestra
with Dame Janet Baker
Conducted by Reginald Goodall
When I saw the words Janet Baker and Wagner together I was astounded.I believe that this may be the only recording of Janet Baker singing Wagner(?)
Although I AM a great fan of Janet Baker I was(i must admit) somewhat dubious.
I need not have worried,it suits Janet down the ground and she imparts all her usual passion and deeply felt understanding of the music and the words.
What can one say of Reggie Goodall?
I used to work at the Coliseum when he was conducting (mostly Wagner) there,and was lucky enough to attend rehearsals,AND to exchange a few pleasantries with him(he was a very modest,quiet and self effacing man)all his passions showed themselves through his baton.
I was (I am sorry to admit) a person with little knowledge of Bruckner(till this recording) now I am hooked,and it's all Reggie's fault! LOL
The Wesendonck Lieder is a song cycle composed by Richard Wagner while he was working on Die Walküre. This, and the Siegfried Idyll, are his only two non-operatic works that are still regularly performed.
The cycle is a setting of poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of Wagner's patrons. Wagner had become acquainted with Otto Wesendonck in Zürich, where he had fled on his escape from Saxony after the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849. For a time Wagner and his wife Minna lived together in the Asyl (German for Asylum), a small cottage on the Wesendonck estate.
It is sometimes claimed that Wagner and Mathilde had a love affair; in any case, the situation and mutual infatuation certainly contributed to the intensity of the first act of Die Walküre which Wagner was working on at the time, and the conceiving of Tristan und Isolde; there is certainly an influence on Mathilde's poems as well.
The poems themselves are in a wistful, pathos-laden style influenced by Wilhelm Müller, the author of the poems used by Schubert earlier in the century. But the language is more rarefied and intense as the Romantic style had developed.
Silvana Dussman sings "Trauma" With the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Valery Gergiev March 2007:
Última edición por JM el Miér Ene 12, 2011 2:01 pm, editado 2 veces
343. Hector Berlioz –
Les troyens (1858)
Les troyens (1858)
Title: Les Troyens
Performed by Covent Garden Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
with Peter Glossop, Ian Herbert, Ian Partridge, Anthony Raffell, Jon Vickers, Dennis Wicks, David Lennox, Ryland Davies, Pierre Thau, Berit Lindholm, Elizabeth Bainbridge, Raimund Herincx, Anne Howells, Heather Begg, Roger Soyer
Conducted by Sir Colin Davis
For much of the 19th and early 20th century the music of Berlioz was considered an in joke in musical circles. Outside of the Symphonie Fantastique and perhaps Harold in Italy, most of the composer's works were relegated to the dustbins of history. This was especially true of his operas, which were considered old fashioned and failures. But around 1960 the tables began to turn. Sir Colin Davis and a small group of other conductors spearheaded a Berlioz revival in Britain and America, rescuing many of Berlioz' greatest works from oblivion. Perhaps the biggest feat of rescue was this seminal recording of Berlioz' masterwork, Les Troyens.
Berlioz had a life long love affair with Virgil and particularly with his Carthaginian heroine Dido. Les Troyens is his paean to Dido and to classical civilization in general. The opera is in the traditional French five-act form. The first two acts concern the downfall of Troy and center around the figure of Cassandra, the prophet who is given the gift of second sight but the curse never to be believed. From the outset, Berlioz is a master of the dramatic set piece. The opera opens with Trojans rushing to the plain in front of the city, celebrating the seeming retreat of the Greeks. The music is jubilant and even a little vulgar....so that the dramatic entry of Cassandra and her powerful aria is all the more highlighted. Cassandra is a vocally terrifying role. She only is present in the first two acts, and yet she dominates these acts completely. Berit Lindholm is phenomenal in the role, her voice powerful and yet capable of the tender turns of phrase the role requires when Cassandra remembers her husband Corebus.
The last three acts concern the love affair between Dido and Aeneas. Much of this music is grand, in the best French sense. Court scenes abound, there is a fourth act ballet, the justly famous Royal Hunt and Storm, and long, aching love duets between the principals. Once again, the female role dominates, Though Aeneas gets a wonderful, dramatic and musical treatment by the incomparable Jon Vickers, it's Dido with whom you feel sympathy....the composer did as well. Josephine Veasey is a wonder, simply breathtaking.
The opera is expertly conducted by Sir Colin Davis and the Orchestra of Covent Garden. Davis is one of the least appreciated conductors of his generation. He does not have the charisma of a Karajan or a Bernstein, but he makes up for it in taste, balance, and a fierce and self-effacing dedication to the composer's intentions. Les Troyens has become increasingly popular in the last 30 years, and there is some competition, particularly on DVD. The Met production from 1983 is quite good vocally, though the staging is uninspired at best and laughable at worst. But even with the likes of Tatianna Troyanos and Jessye Norman, that production doesn't hold a candle vocally or musically to Davis' original. Even Davis' own newer recording doesn't compare vocally. This is the version of this masterpiece to get. Berlioz' world in this piece is unique and beautiful and will give you endless hours of enjoyment.
Berlioz began the libretto on 5 May 1856 and completed it toward the end of June 1856. He finished the full score on 12 April 1858. Berlioz had a keen affection for literature, and he had admired Virgil since his childhood. The Princess Carolyn de Sayn Wittgenstein was a prime motivator to Berlioz to compose this opera. In his memoirs, he gives a detailed account of how he embarked upon an opera based on The Aeneid:
“I happened to be in Weimar with the Princess Wittgenstein, a devoted friend of Liszt's, a woman of rare intelligence and feeling, who has often comforted me in my fits of depression. Something led to me to speak of my admiration of Virgil and of an idea I had formed of a grand opera on the Shakespearean model, to be founded on the second and fourth books of The Aeneid. I added that I was too well acquainted with the necessary difficulties of such an undertaking ever to attempt it. "Indeed", replied the Princess, "your passion for Shakespeare, combined with your love of the antique, ought to produce something grand and uncommon. You must write this opera, or lyric poem, or whatsoever you choose to call it. You must begin it, and you must finish it." I continued my objections, but she would hear none of them. "Listen", said she. "If you are shirking the inevitable difficulties of the piece, if you are so weak as to be afraid to brave everything for Dido and Cassandra, never come to see me again, for I will not receive you." This was quite enough to decide me. On my return to Paris, I began the poem of Les Troyens. I attacked the score, and after three years and a half of corrections, changes, additions, etc., I finished it.”
On 3 May 1861, Berlioz wrote in a letter: "I am sure that I have written a great work, greater and nobler than anything done hitherto." Elsewhere he wrote: "The principal merit of the work is, in my view, the truthfulness of the expression." For Berlioz, truthful representation of passion was the highest goal of a dramatic composer, and in this respect he felt he had equalled the achievements of Gluck and Mozart.
In his memoirs, Berlioz described in excruciating detail the intense frustrations he experienced in seeing the work performed. For five years (from 1858 to 1863), the Paris Opéra -- the only suitable stage in Paris—vacillated. Finally, tired of waiting, he agreed to let a smaller theater, the Théâtre Lyrique, mount a production. However, the management, alarmed at the size, insisted he cut the work in two. It mounted only the second half, given the name Les Troyens à Carthage. Berlioz noted bitterly: "it was manifestly impossible for them to do it justice... the theater wasn't large enough, the singers insufficiently skilled, the chorus and orchestra inadequate." Many compromises and cuts were made and the resulting production "an imperfect" one. In view of all the defects, Berlioz lamented "to properly organize the performance of so great a work, I should have to be master of the theater as absolutely as I am master of the orchestra when rehearsing a symphony."
The love duett Nuit d'ivresse from Les Troyens performed by Susan Graham and Gregory Kundehe. Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir, Choeur du Théâtre du Châtelet and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, Paris 2004:
344. Johannes Brahms –
Piano Concerto no. 1 (1858)
Piano Concerto no. 1 (1858)
Title: The piano concertos
Performer: Nelson Freire
Orchestra: Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
There are so many recordings of these two giants of piano concertos. Both works of epic stature need both an excellent soloist and orchestra. These works of symphonic strength need an orchestra that is not just an accompanying partner for the soloist who needs for his part intelligence, power, balance, sensitivity and poetry(!)in order to tackle the ongoing massive orchestral flow.
Among the great recordings of these piano concertos rank certainly Leon Fleisher and George Szell on Sony (a violent and passionate orchestra - need one say more with a monument as Szell and his beloved Cleveland Orchestra? - and a poetic pianist as Fleisher who marvelled and sculpted these works from his childhood on), Emil Gilels and Eugen Jochum on Deutsche Grammophon (a true classic interpretation, balanced, mature, but for me just a little not passionate enough, anyway Jochum recalls this recording a year before his death as one of the special moments of his entire career), and last but not least Hélène Grimaud and Kurt Sanderling on Erato, as for the piano orchestra no.1 (a volatile and passionate brahmsian fury, a reading of genuine romance, sturm und drang, power and insight). The latter version became recently my personal beloved one for the ongoing pulse and heartbeat of miss Grimaud, not just a pianist, but a musician.
But now Decca surprises us with an ardent live version of these works with the legendary Brasilian Nelson Freire and the even more legendary 250 year old central european Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig (Mendelsohn was one of its first Kapellmeisters!) under the baton of its new conductor Riccardo Chailly: an invaluable coupling.
Chailly has proven himself as one of the utmost exciting conductors of the last fifteen years in the entire world, (e.g. his fenomenal integral Mahler recordings with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra of which he was principal conductor until last year).
Nelson Freire's legend speaks for itself and was for some years probably only becoming more intriguing and glooming due to his absence in the studio during so many years. But don't misunderstand he is one of the true great pianists of the past and ongoing century! Not only a musician, an artist, a sculptor !!! (Listen also to his marvellous Schumann piano recital on Decca, and his recent tackling of the second sonata of Chopin, the last part is blowing you away comletely, a dazzling account).
It's amazing -as to me- how little exposure this new legendary coupling of Nelson Freire and Riccardo Chailly has gained yet in international reviews and critics (there is a review written in superlative terms on classictoday.com).
In any event, these new live recordings, recorded in November 2005 (no. 2) and February 2006 (no.1) reach nearly the ideal: a volatile orchestra, a magister at piano !!!
There is plenty of structural coherence, the rythms of both orchestra and pianist are perfectly chosen, there is an organic, massive and ongoing orchestral flow, there are both so many fiery, volatile attacks and poetic, even carressing passages by both orchestra and Freire, there is a pulse of true romantic power and wisdom, maturity, never getting sticky (e.g. the honest felt andante in the second piano concerto with a marvellous cello solo).
This is a thrilling account that sets the new standard against which any available recording will be placed for evaluation.
The DECCA sound quality of this disc is quite impeccable, revealing every detail!
Brahms' biographers often note that the first sketches for the dramatic opening movement followed quickly on the heels of the 1854 suicide attempt of the composer's dear friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, an event which caused great anguish for Brahms. He finally completed the concerto two years after Schumann's death in 1856, by which time his relationship (which was most likely platonic) with Schumann's widow, Clara Schumann, had grown into a lifelong friendship.
The degree to which Brahms' personal experience is embedded in the concerto is hard to gauge since several other factors also influenced the musical expression of the piece. The epic mood links the work explicitly to the tradition of the Beethoven symphony that Brahms sought to emulate. The finale of the concerto, for example, is clearly modeled on the last movement of Beethoven's third piano concerto, while the concerto's key of D minor is the same as both Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Mozart's dramatic Piano Concerto No. 20.
Arthur Rubinstein plays the first movement of Johannes Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor (Op. 15) Director : Bernard Haitink. Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam:
345. Charles Gounod –
Performers: Jussi Bjoerling, Dorothy Kirsten, Cesare Siepi, Frank Guarrera, Anne Bollinger, Thelma Votipka and Lawrence Davidson
Orchestra: Metropolitan Opera of New York
Conductor: Fausto Cleva
While FAUST is an opera I dearly love, it is murderously difficult to do really well. This recording comes very close to the way it should be. Bjorling, always one of my favorite tenors, is in superb voice in this live 1950 recording from the Met. The grace in his phrasing and singing is exemplary. Dorothy Kirsten, a valuable soprano who recorded far too seldom, also makes a good Marguerite--a character with some real strength instead of the wilted Easter-lily type we often hear. Guarrera is in fine voice as Valentin, and the 27-year-old Siepi is a very good Mephistopheles. He flats somewhat in the first scene, but after that is in better form, with a really nasty "serenade" (that's a compliment!). One bonus on the recording is hearing the voice of Milton Cross, now long dead, as the announcer for some of the scenes. There are one or two "gaps" in the music, particularly at the end of the Walpurgisnacht scene (Faust does not have his vision of Marguerite here) and at the beginning of the Prison Scene--the whole fine introduction is missing. Overall, though, this is a fine recording that needs to be heard and owned by lovers of this much-maligned opera.
Parts of the opera have seeped into popular culture in Europe over more than a century. Faust was so popular in the United States that in New York the opera season began with a performance of it every year for several decades in the late nineteenth century, a fact to which Edith Wharton makes great reference in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence.
The Argentinian author Estanislao del Campo wrote a satirical poem, Fausto (1866), which describes a gaucho's impressions during the performance of Gounod's opera.
A performance of this opera is part of the back story of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and appears in some of the film adaptations of that novel such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Irene Dunne performs "Jewel Song" in the 1934 film "Stingaree", Jeanette MacDonald performs several scenes from the opera in the 1936 film San Francisco, complete with costumes, sets and orchestra.
The biggest impression has perhaps been left by the famous aria sung by Marguerite – the jewel song – since children all over the world have been reading very short extracts from it in several stories in The Adventures of Tintin. In this series of graphic novels or comic strips our hero Tintin and his sidekick, Captain Haddock, often encounter a bombastic opera singer called Bianca Castafiore. Her trademark is the jewel song, which she always sings at high volume, never saying more than Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir or a few words more from other lines. The entire Tintin story The Castafiore Emerald (original title: La Castafiore's Jewels) derives from this running gag.
The waltz from Act II was used on British television in the third series of Monty Python comedy programmes, first shown in 1972; the music was used in the soundtrack of the 34th episode, entitled "The Cycling Tour", ending abruptly each time Mr. Pither crashed.
The Soldier's Chorus--perhaps the opera's most widely recognized theme--serves as the melody to a British nursery song with the lyrics "Oh Jemima look at your Uncle Jim / He's in the duckpond learning how to swim / First he does the backstroke, then he does the side / Now he's under water swimming against the tide" (with various versions of the last two lines).
Waltz at the end of the first act performed by Francizco Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi, Gabriela Benackova and the Chorus and Orchestra of Wiene Staatsoper conducted by Erich Binder, 1985:
346. Giuseppe Verdi –
Un ballo in maschera (1859)
Un ballo in maschera (1859)
Title: Un ballo in maschera
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi
Performed by Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
with Kurt Rydl, Goran Simic, Sumi Jo, Placido Domingo, Wolfgang Witte, Leo Nucci
Conducted by Herbert von Karajan & Ralf Hossfeld
This was Karajan's last complete studio opera recording (he died the following summer during rehearsals for the Salzburg production for which this recording was preliminarily made). It is an opera in many ways ideally suited to the oddly exaggerated mix of elegance and brutality that K. brought to his later Verdi interpretations (for instance the Don Carlo and the second Aida). It is an interpretation that foregrounds the tenor and greatly diminishes the importance of the soprano. How, you ask, can such a thing be done without violating the nature of the opera? Well, it can't be, but the results are nonetheless compelling and once heard impossible to forget. Domingo is fabulous, offering a Riccardo of Otello like brilliance. The passage immediately prior to the last scene when he signs the papers sending his lover and his friend away is so intense as to risk bombast, but it works and arguably neither K nor Domingo has ever been so exalted. (It's difficult not to read some sort of narcissistic self-portrait in Karajan's presentation of the dying Riccardo lyrically pardoning his murder to the accompaniement of the inevitable harps--this recording with the Vienna Phil. was made in the midst of Karajan's final, sad, and shabby break with the Berlin Philharmonic. Miei figli! But as Amelia, Barstow is not satisfactory either vocally or dramatically and Karajan's support during her solos seems perfunctory. Nucci is, as usual, loud and dull. Sumi Jo, a Karajan protegee, is a delight and the recording is impressive. Like all of Karajan's opera recordings, this one teaches you about aspects of the opera that will always inform your future listening, but if this eccentric, uneven performance were to be your only recording of Un Ballo there is much you would miss out on. If only he had lived long enough to record The Sicilian Vespers--now there is an opera MADE for him!
Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with text by Antonio Somma. The libretto is loosely based on an 1833 play, Gustave III, by French playwright Eugène Scribe who wrote about the historical assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden. The subject was well known and had been used by other composers, including Daniel Auber, for his 1833 opera, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and later by Saverio Mercadante for his Il reggente in 1843.
In 1792, the King of Sweden, Gustav III, was killed, the result of a political conspiracy against him. He was shot while attending a masked ball and died 13 days later from his wounds. For the libretto, Scribe retained the names of some of the historical figures involved, the conspiracy, and the killing at the masked ball. The rest of the play - the characterizations, the romance, the fortune-telling, etc. - is Scribe’s invention and the opera is not historically accurate.
However, in order to become the Un ballo in maschera which we know today, Verdi's opera (and his libretto) was forced to undergo a series of transformations, caused by a combination of censorship regulations in both Naples and Rome, as well as the political situation in France in January 1858.
Luciano Pavarotti (Gustavo), Leo Nucci (Renato), Aprile Millo (Amelia), Florence Quivar (Ulrica) and Harolyn Blackwell (Oscar) star in the Met's 1990 production of Guiseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. Conducted by James Levine:
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