Much chatter this week about the 100th anniversary of the Rite of Spring premiere, including worthy homages with cats and a mistake on Slate calling it a symphony. (It’s a ballet folks, what do you think caused the riot?)
Here in the thousandfold household, we’ve gravitated toward the actual Spring Symphony, Schumann’s first. I’m actually more partial to the 4th, in thoughtful D minor, but, as with all of Schumann’s energetic, episodic, and far-reaching symphonies, multiple listenings yield manifold delights. This recording has been kicking around the house; I especially like the second movement, the Larghetto that begins at 10:10.
Schumann was less of a melodist as Schubert and Brahms, the other great Romantic song composers who wrote symphonies (surely not what most musicologists would call them, but I’m a singer, not a musicologist). Continue reading
I was speaking to mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke recently for her upcoming feature in Classical Singer, and she mentioned that one of her favorite pieces is this extending vocal concerto, by the lesser-played composer Ernest Chausson. I found this live recording of the inimitable Kathleen Ferrier, performing with her good friend and equally inimitable John Barbirolli. It was one of her last performances, recorded two years before she died at age 41.
I’m not the greatest francophile when it comes to music – to me it’s the musical equivalent of an elaborate French dessert, sweet and fussy – but this one is worth listening to again and again. Click here for the lyrics to the first part, or just skip it and enjoy the dreamy, somehow sad, lushness. I hear in it the forerunner of Debussy’s La Mer, but even more floaty. In any case, luxuriating in Ferrier’s plush sound is enough. The instrumental interlude with a prominent, meandering bassoon is also full of personality.
Fresh from being blown away by the Detroit Symphony and their romp through the four number symphonies by Charles Ives, I remembered slogging through an Ives choral work in college, the Psalm 90. The slogging speaks to our abilities, not Ives’.
Unisons give way to carefully assembled tone clusters, which heighten certain meaningful words – ‘to another,’ ‘destruction,’ ‘flood,’ ‘evil.’ The unison returns as a shock or a comfort. When performed correctly, as in this recording, the harmonies are so close that you can feel yourself reverberating in sympathy. I’ve pasted the text below to follow along. It is a passage that will be read at no wedding.
Who else but Ives could give us a Psalm transfigured, starting with unconventional plainchant to an ecstatic recitative to the closing transcendental hymn?
A baby… a work in progress… incomplete… unfinished. There’s the logic that lead’s to this morning’s selection, Schubert’s 8th Symphony.
Here it is with the agonized and adored Furtwängler and the Berlin Phil in 1952.
Best with headphones. I adore the second movement, beginning around 11:50.
Arthur Honegger is a composer you want to hear more of, the minute you hear him. (Note the French pronunciation: ohn-egg-AIR) Honegger is likely the greatest Swiss composer of modern times, though he is counted among the French modernists, such as Poulenc and Milhaud. I happened to encounter him twice in my brief French horn career, the first with Pacific 231, which emulates the sounds and presence of a locomotive. Then I had the delight of getting to know Pastorale d’été (Pastorale of Summer).
The genius is in the scoring: woodwind quintet and string orchestra. The effect is graceful, lightweight, but entrancing like good conversation over a summer meal. Around 3:19 the clarinet starts a tune you’ll be whistling until summertime, and juicy horn solos abound. It’s over before you know it, and leaves you wanting more. A little early in the year for more summer music? Yeah, but there’s no good music out there for spring, right?
Played by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which could use a thaw about now.
When it comes to music, Easter’s got Christmas licked. (Readers will be reminded that The Messiah is two-thirds an Easter piece.) As heard on WQXR‘s somewhat exhausting Bach marathon, the most interesting pieces are based on dramatic texts about blood and sacrifice, more than cantatas about love and heavenly reward.
For while the Easter season does not have a ‘Joy to the World’ equivalent, it has the far more complex Stabat Mater and the theatrical passions of St. John and St. Matthew. Continue reading
Or rather, Sunday night. I’m thrilled to be reviewing Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles… Ensemble ACJW with Robert Spano, my first concert in many months. In this excerpt, Appel Interstellaire, Messiaen turns the horn into a galactic transmitter, exploiting the wiggly yelps you can make by pressing the valves down halfway.