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Maurice Ravel

Sunday, September 25, 2016


My Classical Notes

September 19

Arabella’s Violin Fantasies

My Classical NotesThis is a new CD by German violinist Arabella Steinbacher. “Fantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams” Massenet: Meditation (from Thaïs) Ravel: Tzigane Saint-Saëns: Havanaise, Op. 83 Introduction & Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28 Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending Waxman, F: Carmen Fantasy All performed by Arabella Steinbacher (violin), with Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Lawrence Foster conducting. This collection is filled with great melodies from violinist Arabella Steinbacher in “Fantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams”. Excellent virtuoso playing, bravura passagework and lovely melodies are balanced with wistful lyricism and sublime tone painting in this irresistible program of perennial favorites, played by the violinist Arabella Steinbacher with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, conducted by Lawrence Foster. “Great violinists like Heifetz, Kreisler, Menuhin … played virtuosic pieces in their concerts,” recalled Steinbacher in a recent interview. She lamented that such pieces are infrequently played owing to the perception that “…this kind of repertoire is ‘not serious enough’ which I find is really a pity and also not true.” Here is Ms. Steinbacher, performing the Rondo from Beethoven’s Violin Concerto:

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

September 12

Classical artists join anti-gun lobby

Musicians Against Gun Violence in America is holding a wave of events across the US on September 25 and classical musicians will be sounding off at the following locations. Go support them if you can. Cleveland, Ohio: At U.S. Bank Plaza in Playhouse Square, 12:30pm. Performers include musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra, from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, from the Cleveland Institute of Music, from Classical Revolution Cleveland, and from Quire Cleveland. (Below is a fuller list of performers.) The program features a mix of classical and popular numbers, many of which will be on the themes of peace and remembrance. The concert is hosted by Jeff Kurkjian, host of “The Jeff Show” on Q104, and Angela Mitchell, assistant producer for WCLV Classical 104.9. Both hosts also perform on the program. Mitchell is a board member of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and is organizing the event. Cleveland performers: Factory Seconds Brass Trio (made up of brass players from The Cleveland Orchestra) Singers from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus Brett Mitchell (Associate Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra) String quartet from the Cleveland Institute of Music Classical Revolution Cleveland (graduates of CIM) duo In2ative (graduates of CIM) Cleveland Cello Quartet (current and former students of CIM) Singers from Quire Cleveland Angela Mitchell (singer, radio personality, board member of Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence) Jeff Kurkjian (host of “The Jeff Show” on Cleveland’s Q104) Danbury, Connecticut: At Danbury Music Center , presented by composer and Danbury native Paul Frucht in partnership with Sandy Hook Promise. The program, to be performed by recent graduates of the Juilliard School, will realize the mission of Sandy Hook Promise through music, featuring works by Jonathan Cziner, Miles Davis, Paul Frucht, Ives, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. Performers include: Katherine Lee Althen, flute Yuga Cohler, conductor Anastasia Dolak, violin Robert Fleitz, piano Molly Goldman, viola Isabel Hagen, viola Hannah Ji, violin Ben Laude, piano Emily Levin, harp Ariana Nelson, cello Andrew O’Donnell, clarinet Chelsea Starbuck Smith, violin Theo Van Dyck, trumpet Sebastian Zinca, double bass York, PA: hosted by Zion Lutheran Church and its Director of Music Ministries, Mark Mummert. Performers are 15 local professional vocalists (including 6 sopranos) and instrumentalists playing works by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Puccini, Copland, Bernstein, and Miranda’s Broadway musical “Hamilton”, among others. An offering will benefit Everytown for Gun Safety. Ann Arbor, Michigan (details still tba): featuring Louis Nagel, piano, and a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony conducted by Kevin Fitzgerald, who led Mozart’s Requiem at the Requiem for Orlando. UPDATE: We have been asked to clarify that Musicians Against Gun Violence in America is one of dozens of organizations banding together under the banner of the Concert Across America to End Gun Violence.




My Classical Notes

September 10

Julia and Daniel: Music for Violin and Cello

My own earliest experience of playing music for violin and cello goes back to the early 1950’s when I was a member of an orchestra that performed the Brahms Double Concerto. I learned to thoroughly love that piece. Now we have a new recording of music for these two instruments by several other composers: Halvorsen: Passacaglia for Violin & Cello/Viola (after Handel) Kodály: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 Ravel: Sonata for Violin & Cello Schulhoff: Duo for violin & cello All performed by Julia Fischer (violin) and Daniel Müller-Schott (cello) The works heard in this program were written surprisingly late: Kodály 1914; Ravel 1922; Schulhoff 1925. Although these three works can scarcely be regarded as avant-garde for their time, at least where their tonality is concerned, a new spirit is in the air: a freely ranging search on all levels for new forms and means of expression, coupled with a love of experimentation with extremely sparse scoring. It is also noteworthy that all three works succeed in their own way in reflecting a national character in their musical idiom. Ravel offers typical trompe-l’oreille subtlety while retaining immaculately groomed French elegance; Kodály writes against a background of ethnological research in folk music; Schulhoff stands out for the way he experiments with complex combinations of rhythms. However, the pioneering work in a distinctive violin-cello repertoire was surely written a generation earlier: Brahms’ concerto for this ‘eight-stringed giant’ of 1887. It was a performance of his work that brought Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott together on the concert platform for the first time. In fact, both artists wish this CD release to represent a record of their work together as a duo over the past ten years and more, as the pair explain in an extended conversation with Meret Forster printed in the accompanying booklet. It is already the case that performances of the Brahms Double Concerto by Fischer and Müller-Schott now almost inevitably lead the audience to expect the immortal Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia of 1894 – a demand that is gladly met. This congenial enlargement by the Norwegian violinist and composer Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) of a passacaglia from a Handel suite for harpsichord exists in various pairings of violin, viola and cello. It accentuates the infectious vigour of the original in a remarkably clever manner by its highly challenging but idiomatic transposition to two quite differently characterized and mutually supportive instruments. The Guardian wrote in July,,2016: “they play [the Ravel and the Kodály] with such energy, engagement and virtuoso precision that there’s never any hint of overfamiliarity; in both works, every detail of the extremely demanding string writing is carefully etched, and captured with tingling immediacy in the recording.” Here are the performers in the Passacaglia by Johann Halvorsen:



Classical iconoclast

September 4

Boulez Bartok Carter Prom 65 Ensemble Intercontemporain

My companion attended Boulez's first Prom in 1965, and still keeps the original programme booklet.  So Prom 65 :;Bartók, Carter and Boulez with Baldur Brönnimann and Ensemble Intercontemporain and the BBC Singers was a special occasion.  An atmospheric Prom, the lights in the Royal Albert Hall dimmed in darkness, spotlighting the music, and the musicians. As things should be ! For music is what some of us care about above all else, however media opinion might differ.  Late night Proms have a unique atmosphere, drawing out audiences who care enough about what they listen to to that they'd gladly stick around til after midnight and miss the last bus or train home to be there.  Besides, smaller scale music like this needs to be heard in surroundings more conducive to thoughtful listening than in a mass rally conditions. Baldur Brönnimann and Ensemble Intercontemporain are, fortunately, regular enough visitors to London that they feel like family.  They all new Boulez, personally, too, a factor which added extra poignancy but the high standards of these performances proved that his legacy lives on. Bartók's Three Village Scenes (1926) at the beginning, for good reason. Modern music isn't an aberration that began with Boulez, as some think these days, evidently unaware of Schoenberg, Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel and many others.  What all these "modernists" have in common is an affinity for approaches other than that of the late 19th century Austro German tradition.  Bartók's immersion in Hungarian folk idiom  helped him find his unique voice.  His avant garde expressiveness stemmed from far deeper roots.  In Three Village Scenes, the BBC Singers sang with crisp articulation. I have no idea whether their diction was properly Hungarian or not, and don't care. What mattered was the sharpness of intonation, a  group of individual voices operating as a tight unit.  The orchestra came into focus in the second movement, Ukoliebavka, where a single voice intones a plaintive lullaby.  Here, Bartók's individuality - and modernity - palpably present in the shifting, tonally ambiguous forces swirling round her voice.  In Tanec mladencov, the sound of ancient instruments was invoked in new form.  Vigorous rhythms, jerky angular lines, vibrant energy.   And so to Boulez Anthèmes II.with Jeanne-Marine Conquer, the soloist par excellence in this piece which she has made her own, having performed it so many times, conducted by Boulez himself..   Although Boulez founded IRCAM  enabling whole new generations of composers to explore the possibilities of microtonality and more, Anthèmes II. is one of the relatively few pieces he wrote that incorporates electronic sound.  I heard Boulez and Conquer do this piece live at Aldeburgh in 2010 at The Maltings, Snape, so was particularly keen to hear how the dynamic changed. Unsurprisngly it worked better, since the electronics bounced over the cavernous acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall, the  sound stretching for much greater distances than they ever could in the small, boxlike Maltings. Although the electronic effects are created by technology, the sound is "played" by human beings. The sound desk people are musicians responding to the violin, adapting and adjusting.    Anthèmes II. is a dialogue on many different levels.  Boulez said that, as a child, he was fascinated by the call and response of the Catholic Mass, by the use of archaic language and by the sense of ancient times co-existing with the present.   As Conquer played, the sound of her violin projected into the vast expanse of the RAH, enhanced so that it seemed to reach out to the upper galleries, and into the dome, deflecting back to the platform, the sound then taken up and transformed by the electronics. Since each of the six sections are so varied, getting this dynamic flow was quite some acheivement. Magical, a haunting experience with profound emotional impact. More "dialogue", with Elliott Carter's Penthode (1984-5) since Boulez and Carter were extremely close friends, bouncing symbiotically off one another.  Carter constructed Penthode like a mathematical theorem, employing five groups of four instruments, in unusual combinations, like  bassoon,m piano, percussion and viola. The cells thus interact with each other to form the "orchestra".  The piece is thus both a deconstruction of the idea of an orchestra yet also a reworking of the fundamental idea of playing in harmony, without the actual  use of harmony.  Brönnimann and Ensemble Intercontemporain make Penthode sound easy, though it's not. Players have to, listen acutely to one another, each a soloist in his and her own right. No going with the flow and hiding behind a large group as can happen in lesser ensembles.   In his poetry, E E Cummings defied conventional concepts of language: words deconstruct into fragments, and meaning comes from the visual impression of text across the page. Blank areas "speak", an idea that translates well into music.  Thus the very configuration of the forces Boulez employs in Cummings ist der Dichter : a small chorus, but one divided into 16 parts, the BBC Singers making the music flow across the line in the way that Cummings uses single characters of the alphabet slide over the page.  Lines elide, the orchestral lines stretching in arching swathes  and oscillating flurries.  "Birds here, inventing air", Cummings writes in his bizarre,  inventive way, making you pay attention and observe.  "Pay attention and observe", a mantra which could also apply to Boulez.   Do we hear in this music the movement of birds, as we might in Messaien ? I don't know, or care, because the experience of being alert and acutely sensitive to nuance is even more fundamental. Listen to the re broadcast here. The commentary is vacuous cliché, but the interviews, with members of the ensemble and singers, are enlightening

Maurice Ravel
(1875 – 1937)

Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937) was a French composer of Impressionist music known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects. Much of his piano music, chamber music, vocal music and orchestral music has entered the standard concert repertoire. Ravel's piano compositions, such as Jeux d'eau, Miroirs, Le tombeau de Couperin and Gaspard de la nuit, demand considerable virtuosity from the performer, and his orchestral music, including Daphnis et Chloé and his arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, uses a variety of sound and instrumentation. Ravel is perhaps known best for his orchestral work Boléro (1928), which he considered trivial and once described as "a piece for orchestra without music."



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