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Maurice Ravel

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

January 4

Vienna’s favourite maestro dies, aged 92

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discWe regret to report the death of Georges Pretre, an elegant French conductor who was popular wherever he went – nowhere more so than Vienna, which adored him. He died this afternoon, at home in France. Raised in northern France, Georges was director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris from 1955 to 1959. He was a stalwart of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, 1959 to 1971, and was music director of the Paris Opéra for one season, 1970-71. He was principal conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker from 1986 to 1991. He was a regular at La Scala (see below). Mostly he freelanced around the world’s leading opera houses, giving fun and having it. He was the acme of French style in all that he did, with an infallible sense of rhythm. In terms of leaving a mark on music history, he gave the world premiere of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. His farewell performance: From La Scala: Georges Pretre, one of the greatest conductors of our time, had a fifty-year relationship with La Scala. He made his debute in 1966 conducting a legendary production of Gounod’s Faust with Mirella Freni, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. Two years later he led Turandot directed by Margherita Wallmann, and, a few days later, Die Walküre with Régine Crespin and James King. In 1969, Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz with Liliana Cosi in the choreography of George Skibine, in 1970 Sanson et Dalila in Saint-Saëns with Shirley Verrett and Pier Miranda Ferraro in 1972 with Carmen Fiorenza Cossotto, in 1973 and 1977 Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy directed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1975 in Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Franco Zeffirelli with Luciano Pavarotti and Ileana Cotrubaş, in 1976 Massenet’s Werther with Alfredo Kraus and Elena Obraztsova, Madama Butterfly in 1978 and immediately after Manon Lescaut by Puccini with Sylvia Sass and Plácido Domingo in a direction of Piero Faggioni. In 1978 Ravel L’enfant et les sortileges and L’heure espagnole; back in 1981 for Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, directed by Zeffirelli with Domingo and Obraztsova and in 1982 for Les Troyens by Berlioz in the direction of Luca Ronconi. The last operatic commitments of Prêtre at La Scala were Turandot directed by Keita Asari in 2001 and Pelleas et Melisande directed by Pierre Médecin, but he continued to give countless concerts with the orchestra. His last, triumphant concert took place on 22 February 2016. Georges Pretre was due to return to the podium for the Symphonic Season of the Teatro alla Scala on 13, 15 and 17 March 2017.

Tribuna musical

January 9

Witty Bernstein, Honegger Christmas and “Degenerate art”

This is the last survey of the by now extinct musical season. Two of the five comments are about the Colón; two concern the cycles of the National Library. The Art Institute of our mighty theatre does a special project each year: a short opera wholly prepared, sung, staged and played by students, naturally with professors´ supervision. I find it a very rewarding and intelligent idea, for from it will come the professionals of the future, bred at the source. They call it Workshop of Operatic Integration. In 2015 it was Ravel´s lovely "L´enfant et les sortilèges", so good that it was presented again in 2016 in the series of events for children of the Colón (another interesting initiative). Claudio Alsuyet as Director of the Institute is doing a fine job, and this was proved by the December première of Leonard Bernstein´s witty 45-minute one-acter, "Trouble in Tahiti" (words and music by the charismatic American artist). Tahiti is only mentioned by the couple of the Thirties (Dinah, soprano; Sam, baritone) living in New York´s suburbia. Married for ten years, their relationship is in trouble; the taut seven scenes have a sweet/sour taste but finally the unraveled becomes whole again. The music mirrors every mood, more dissonant when they quarrel, smoother when things calm down. The touch of genius (and a reminder of Bernstein´s musical comedy side; arguably "West Side Story" is one of the very best) is that each scene is followed by a brief interlude in which a trio of singing comedians bring back the Roaring Twenties carefree cabaret style. The brilliant staging by Romina Almirón gave us a slice of American Zeitgeist, with talented handling of the singers and funny, à-propos projections, plus intelligent stage, costume and light designs. With first-rate support of a 15-strong chamber orchestra combining students and professors and led by Emmanuel Siffert with unerring sense of style, the couple was sung and acted with professional firmness by Vanesa Aguado Benítez and Mariano Gladic, and the trio did their bits with hand-in-glove precision (Milagros Burga, Germán Polón and Luis Asmat). The venue was the Teatro 25 de Mayo, nicknamed the Little Colón, a nice hall at Avenida Triunvirato. At the Colón the Resident (Estable) Orchestra offered a Christmas concert which featured Honegger´s "Une Cantate de Noël", a late work (1953) which starts rather grimly with a "De profundis clamavi" but in its second part, "Peace and joy to you, Israel", becomes gradually exulting, with quotes from famous German and French Christmas carols. Both baritone Alejandro Meerapfel, the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez) and the Colón Children´s Choir (César Bustamante) sang with conviction, fine voices and accuracy. Before and after, things were aesthetically worlds apart. Brazilian conductor Roberto Minczuk, of vast career, initially had the ungrateful task of accompanying the fluffy and badly orchestrated Concerto for oboe on motifs from Donizetti´s "La Favorita" by Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924), a mere vehicle for the virtuoso playing of Rubén Albornoz. After the interval the Estable, generally confined to the pit, had the challenge of Brahms´ majestic First Symphony, and both conductor and orchestra acquitted themselves with a powerful, concentrated reading of what is probably the best First in history. Alas, at the cost of leaving aside (no explanation) the long-announced Second Symphony ("Rome) by Bizet, very rarely done and not the equal of the astonishing First of the teenager composer, but still a score of charm and freshness worth reviving. The National Library has a cozy Auditorio Borges of good acoustics and it is the venue of a worthy project called Plural Music (Música en Plural) organized since many years ago by Haydée Seibert and Bárbara Civita. The idea is mixing different textures in the same concert, as a way of showing the variety of chamber music. In 2016 there were nine concerts and I could only catch the last one, although some of them were very alluring. In this case, a song recital by mezzo Mariana Rewerski accompanied by pianist Valeria Briático was followed by the pithy, intense Elgar Quintet for piano and strings. The singer chose well: fast Villanelle by Cécile Chaminade, a beautiful melody by Massenet ("Nuits d´Espagne"), Reynaldo Hahn both in French ("Paysage", very evocative) and English (three of the Five Little Songs on clever texts by Robert Stevenson), showing the versatility of this Venezuelan who spent most of his life in Paris; "Dream Valley", one of the numerous songs by the Britisher Roger Quilter; and two fine Argentine choices: "Cita" by Guastavino and "Canción de la luna lunanca" by Ginastera. Both artists are accomplished professionals who sing and play with style, good taste and accuracy. The Quintet (1919) is mature Elgar at its best, written immediately after his Quartet (1918): dense Postromanticism with real substance and structure, it was admirably played by Graciela Reca (piano, from Entre Ríos) and string players of true knowledge and sound technique who happen to be great friends: Haydée Seibert Francia and Gustavo Mulé (violins), Elizabeth Ridolfi (viola) and Myriam Santucci (cello). Civita and Seibert Francia had another splendid idea at the same venue: two concerts, one instrumental and the other vocal with piano, called "The forbidden sounds", centering on the music that Hitler and Goebbels called "Entartete Musik" ("Degenerate Music"). I could hear the second, with Susanna Moncayo (mezzo), Víctor Torres (baritone) and Pierre Blanchard (piano). The first group, with Moncayo, was a selection of music from Terezin, the concentration camp of Jews in Czech territory used by the Nazis to mock UN envoys by making them believe that the inmates could create plays and pieces of music and were well treated, when in fact after the visit they were sent to Auschwitz...The hymn and the song of Terezin plus a couple of cabaret songs by Karel Svenk and Adolf Strauss were heard in this concert. Than, those composers considered degenerate but in exile. Schönberg is the man who invented the twelve-tone system, but his funny Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret songs) are tonal and sarcastic and quite early (1901). Finally, the songs of Berlin leftist composers who lived the decline of the Weimar Republic: Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau ("Song of the great capitulation") and Weill: "The ballad of sexual submission" from "The twopenny opera", plus "Abschied" ("Farewell") , by Moncayo. Cynical, harsh, disenchanted songs. I was surprised that they ended with a funny Fred Raymond duet, for he belonged to the different world of light operettas during the Third Reich. But the afternoon was interesting, with Moncayo´s crossover way opposed to the more classical Torres, both finely accompanied by Blanchard. Have you ever wondered about whether there were cantatas extolling Hitler, paralleling those written for Lenin and Stalin? I have never found any reference to them; how strange in a megalomaniac regime if they were absent... For Buenos Aires Herald




My Classical Notes

December 20

Emma Johnson’s Clarinet

We feature a new recording of music for clarinet today. The artist is Emma Johnson, and title of the album is “Clarinet Goes to Town”. Titles of the selections are as follows: China Boy Phil Boutelje, Dick Winfree Wang Wang Blues Sheik of Araby After You’ve Gone Abreu: Tico-tico no fubá Bechet: Petite Fleur Bernstein: Riffs from Prelude, Fugue and Riffs Brahms: Wiegenlied, Op. 49 No. 4 (Lullaby) Chopin: Nocturne No. 11 in G minor, Op. 37 No. 1 Debussy: Golliwog’s Cakewalk (from Children’s Corner) Dvorak: Sonatina for violin and piano in G major, Op. 100: Larghetto Elgar: Canto Popolare (In Moonlight) Gershwin: Promenade (Walking the Dog) Giampieri: Il Carnevale di Venezia’ Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag Lloyd Webber, W: Frensham Pond (Aquarelle) for clarinet and piano (from Country Impressions) (1960) Monti, V: Csárdás Piazzólla: Libertango Rachmaninov: Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 Ravel: Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera Simeon: Grand Boubousse Templeton: Bach goes to Town trad.: St. James’s Infirmary Blues All performed by Emma Johnson (clarinet), with the Carducci String Quartet. ‘The great thing about the clarinet is it can take you anywhere – any country, any style, any era – and accordingly Clarinet Goes to Town journeys from Brazil to China encompassing styles from Classical to Jazz. It’s basically me letting my hair down with my favorite musicians in party pieces we’ve honed in concert over the past few years.’ Emma Johnson Clarinet Goes to Town



My Classical Notes

December 8

Dudamel Conducts Mussorgsky

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel celebrates ten years of being a recording artist at Deutschland Gramophone with this new recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel A Night on the Bare Mountain Tchaikovsky: Waltz from Swan Lake All performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Celebrating ten years as an exclusive recording artist on Deutsche Grammophon, Gustavo Dudamel’s career has evolved from Venezuelan Wunderkind to one of the world’s most distinguished and sought-after Maestros. This recording, made with the Wiener Philharmoniker at Vienna’s Musikverein in April 2016, is an all-Russian album – it joins two works by Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, in Ravel’s magnificent orchestration, and A Night on Bald Mountain, with the famous Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The Viennese waltz kings and Dudamel gives this perennial ballet highlight a fresh, vibrant new reading – a perfect introduction to the festive season. Pictures at an Exhibition is one of music’s most transcribed, arranged and covered pieces, an inspiration to many artists and cited in popular culture on television, in film, and in video games. The brief, episodic structure of these works makes them ideally-suited for streaming and digital campaigns. Here is Gustavo Dudamel with some pictures of the kids who learn all about music from their Superar orchestra:

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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