C 917 154 LThe paths of history can be tortuous indeed. In this Wagnerian realm, “Kna”, as he was known, conducted a dramatic Flying Dutchman in 1955 (available on ORFEO 692092) but primarily devoted himself to the great, “heavy”, later works, namely the Ring of the Nibelung (660 513), The Mastersingers of Nuremberg and Parsifal (690 074). Besides his Ring cycles of 1956-1958, Kna was probably most famous for his Parsifal; until his death 50 years ago, there was only one year when he did not conduct it (the performance on the ORFEO label is his last, from 1964). It was also his Parsifal that truly set the standards for others to follow, and that had a long-lasting impact. And yet, despite the man’s supposedly so deeply serious nature, many a Knappertsbusch connoisseur finds even more qualities to admire in his interpretation of Wagner’s “grand comic opera” The Mastersingers, his longest single work. Or perhaps we should express this differently: that greater justice is done to this work through him. Kna in fact repeatedly displayed his joy in the lighter muse – from the Badner Madl’n by Komzak to the Merry Wives of Windsor by Nicolai, the complete recording of which only surfaced a few years ago (ORFEO 787 102).
Kna’s Mastersingers lives from a sense of vocal collaboration that is rather untypical of Wagner performances. Here, a highly colourful ensemble offers the vital variety necessary for its characters. The 43-year-old East German guest Theo Adam is completely convincing as Veit Pogner, Eva’s father (eight years later, he sang the role of Sachs in the same venue, this time under Karl Böhm; see ORFEO 753084). But one of the highpoints of the performance is the powerful debut in the role of Sachs offered by the 47-year-old Josef Greindl. He was already well acquainted with the Mastersingers, having sung the role of Pogner on the first night of this Wieland Wagner production under André Cluytens in 1956, as he had already done under Furtwängler in Bayreuth in 1943/44 and under Fritz Reiner at the Met in 1953. Greindl’s powerful bass register was complemented by an admirably effortless mastery of the exposed baritone passages in his role, which remain effortless to the end of the evening. And yet despite his strength of voice, this is no blustery performance; instead he often achieves supple, sensitive nuances in his interpretation (and by all accounts he also possessed film-star good looks on stage). The vocal achievement of Elisabeth Grümmer (49 at the time) can only be described as superb: she sings with technical perfection, touching emotion and completely convincing youthfulness. We tend to associate Wolfgang Windgassen’s voice in these years with the much heavier heldentenor roles in Wagner, and given his audible vocal reserves his portrayal of the noble outsider von Stolzing sounds unusually serene. The nimble Karl Schmitt-Walter had been the Beckmesser of this production since 1956, and he by no means makes him merely laughable. The 33-year-old Gerhard Stolze sings David, and we can hear in his singing and his acting the rising star that he was. Together, these four men offer a flexible “male quartet” whose interactions are simply ideal – as they also are with the other voices in the opera. All in all, this is a happy mixture of proven older voices, younger voices that are just getting established, and an impressive debut in the role of Sachs.
Yet the star of the performance is undoubtedly the 72-year-old newcomer to the production, Hans Knappertsbusch. His interpretation of this complex, tricky work is anything but Teutonic and heavy, but instead consciously cultivated and restrained, always supportive of the voices, relaxed, and with a chamber-music lightness in the dialogues (which does the work good and precludes any sense of longueur). The impact of the fugue during the brawl in the second act, for example, is all the greater for it – it is performed as a great arch (and with a great sense of fun in the hubbub it makes), and the excitement lasts all the way to the end of the act. The manner in which Kna savours the dances on the festive meadow is also astonishing, displaying something between the magically twee and the gruffly rustic, all in careful doses, and conjoined with audible pleasure in the affectionately framed choral interjections that are almost dadaist in their effect. This is truly “festive”!
In contrast to a market badly marred by pirated copies and unauthorised editions, much care has been invested here in restoring the original sound. This edition is adorned once more by exclusive stills from the Bayreuth archives and a highly stimulating essay by Peter Emmerich on the dramaturgical situation in Bayreuth in 1960 and its impact on the Festival audiences.
ORFEO 2 CD C 896 152 A
When Richard Strauss gave the
C 896 152 Aworld première of the heavily revised version of the Violin Concerto by his composer colleague Jean Sibelius in 1905, with Kárel Haliř as soloist, this marked the birth of a masterpiece at the second attempt, as it were. Since the Second World War at the latest, this concerto has enjoyed an unstoppable series of triumphs through the concert halls of the world. Sibelius came from what was then a Russian province, the Grand Duchy of Finland, and was younger than Strauss by just one year. He had conducted the world première of the first version of his Concerto two years earlier in Helsinki, with Viktor Nováček standing in for Willy Burmester, who had been originally intended to play the solo part. The reaction to the work led no one to suspect that it could ever enjoy a success such as was later the case, and in fact the local critic-in-chief of the time, Karl Flodin, wrote extremely negatively about it. But the composer did not descend thereafter into Nordic melancholy, taking this criticism instead as an opportunity to subject his work to a serious process of revision.
As was typical of Sibelius’s approach in his large-scale works, he here offers his own unique interpretation of the forms common to the genre. In some aspects he remains traditional, while in others he is surprisingly innovative in what he leaves out or replaces with something new. His large-scale architecture using well-tried formal elements and astonishing “open spaces” might be partly the reason why this work is so often found to offer impressions of vastness and of yearning, not unlike the landscapes of the native land of its creator. This feeling of space is here paired with an interplay between an often lyrical, tender, late-Romantic tone and repeated moments of incredible technical virtuosity that are emotionally breath-taking for performer and audience alike.
It is worth noting here, once again,
Foto: Marco Borggrevethat there seems to be a particular affinity for this work among women violinists. The violin repertoire is hardly small, but it tends to be one-sided in the works generally chosen by performers. In her recent CD releases, however, Baiba Skride has time and again endeavoured to offer carefully considered, stimulating programme combinations that can prompt a joy in discovery on the part of her listeners. For example, she has combined Brahms’s Violin Concerto, which – especially in its last movement – is so clearly inspired by “Hungarian” music, with the perhaps most idiomatic version of his popular “Hungarian Dances”: the rarely played, highly virtuosic version made by his friend Joseph Joachim for violin and piano (she is on this CD accompanied by her sister Lauma: C 829 112). And she has combined on a single CD Schumann’s three works for violin and orchestra – the Violin Concerto, which itself is rare enough on concert programmes, plus the composer’s own arrangement of his Cello Concerto and the version for violin and orchestra of his late Violin Fantasy as arranged by Joachim (also a friend of Schumann, of course; C 854 131). On another CD, Skride offers a fresh, well-nigh exuberant combination, playing the violin concertos by Stravinsky and Martin (on C 849121). And most recently she has recorded the violin concertos of Szymanowski – which are so full of musical and violinistic riches – alongside his “Myths”, again with her sister Lauma at the piano (C 873 141). For Baiba Skride, coming from the Baltic, it was natural – both in terms of her biography and her native geography – that she would want to place the Violin Concerto by Sibelius in this, his anniversary year, alongside the sole violin concerto by his exact Baltic contemporary Carl Nielsen (1865 – 1931). And perhaps, above and beyond Baiba Skride’s own naturalness of manner, we can also hear a certain worldliness and directness here in her approach to the Sibelius Concerto – a work so holy to violinists – that allows us to discern a special familiarity with it on her part. Whereas the work by Nielsen, which was given its first performance in the aesthetic epoch-making year of 1911, is in compositional terms slightly more progressive, when one takes a broader view we can today discern the similarities between both works in their degree of modernity (or perhaps in their more or less conscious rejection of it). This applies both to their interpretation of concerto form and to the self-consciously extreme technical demands that they make on the soloist. Incidentally, both composers were trained violinists who earned their living for a while from their instrument. Perhaps this is the reason why these two concertos are not regarded as being un-violinistic, despite their considerable virtuosic difficulties. Skride here also includes Sibelius’s two Serenades of 1912/13 for solo violin and orchestra – two similarly original examples of his art of composition that are cast in a very different tone and in a smaller-scale genre. The self-assured, wilful, yet responsibly tradition-conscious Violin Concerto by Nielsen was composed, as it were, with his symphonies in the background, where he was experimenting with progressive tonality in a manner more progressive than Sibelius (though without branching off into Modernism). Alongside the latter composer’s more established masterpiece, Nielsen’s formal fantasy and the newness of what he has to say (while still remaining accessible to his listeners) mean that his concerto nevertheless deserves a real chance to assert itself.
ORFEO 1 CD C 831 151 A
Michael Hofstetter has long been one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. He has a broad repertoire stretching over several different epochs, and in 2015 his invitations range from the Styriarte Graz to the Houston Grand Opera. The Baroque is undoubtedly one of Hofstetter’s main areas of expertise – his affinity for the works of George Frideric Handel has been often proven at venues such as the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe and English National Opera in London.
C 831 151 AHofstetter was chief conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra from 2006 to 2013, and together they have now recorded Handel’s Concerti grossi Nos. 1, 6, 10 and 12 from his Opus 6 collection, along with the concerto grosso Alexander’s Feast. This last concerto, dating from 1736, was composed while Handel was still lord of the operatic world in London. Nevertheless, it already displays many characteristics familiar from his later concertos, with its sparkling allegro opening, its pastoral Largo, the rich counterpoint of its fugue and its dancelike final movement. Handel’s subsequent concerti grossi offer one highpoint of the genre after another – and the masterful, transparent performances of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Michael Hofstetter do full justice to this music, from the Musette of Concerto No. 6 – described by Romain Rolland as “one of the most luminous visions of pastoral happiness” – to the French-influenced forms of overture and air in the tenth concerto or the twelfth concerto with its powerful beginning that opens out into supreme elegance and virtuosity. The concerti grossi op. 6 are justly regarded as the highpoint of Handel’s instrumental oeuvre, on a par with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and his Brandenburg Concertos. Handel’s works stand at the end of an era, and he knew how to incorporate aspects of the new “galant” style, moulding highly original works of music out of seemingly incompatible elements and in the process creating an impressive coda to the genre of the Baroque concerto grosso.
ORFEO 1 CD C 895 151 A
When considering the symphonic output of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Manfred Symphony in b minor, Op. 58 (1885), composed between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, has all too often been overlooked.
C 895 151 AThe latter two symphonies exist already in award-winning recordings from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Andris Nelsons (as does the Sixth Symphony – the “Pathetique”). Manfred, after Lord Byron’s dramatic poem of the same name now enriches this Tchaikovsky cycle through a number of remarkable facets.
Foto: Marco BorggreveAs suggested by the critic Vladimir Stassov, Tchaikovsky oriented himself on the programmatic symphonies of Hector Berlioz, creating a late-romantic, agitated series of orchestral scenes in which the lonely mountain peregrinations of the title character are alliterated with not only magical apparitions but with an idyllic submersion in nature as well as a bacchanal from the nether world. The end of the work is musically linked to motives found in the symphony’s impassioned first movement. In both, the unfulfilled love of the protagonist to his sister Astarte is musically characterized. It is in just these segments of the new recording with the CBSO, under the direction of Andris Nelsons, that the listener is gripped, particularly by the enormous strength of the CBSO string section while the woodwind and brass sections show themselves to great advantage, nearly stealing the show, in the alluded “transcendental” vision of the Alpine fairy and the tempestuous sweep of the bacchanal. In addition – Tchaikovsky’s much shorter Marche Slave in B-flat minor, Op. 31, composed one year before the start of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, gives the CBSO sufficient opportunity to shine. Tchaikovsky powerfully shifts the initial flow of the funeral march, characterizing the suppression of an entire folk, into a triumph of freedom. He includes not only musical references to Serbian folk songs but also the Russian National Anthem, “God Save the Tsar”, a fact which caused considerable problems for the Russian censors during much of the 20th century. Whether on the concert or operatic podium, conductor Andris Nelsons remains a master when it comes to the heightening of dramatic intensity. Here, with the CBSO once again on superb form, this march assumes the stature of an engrossingly timeless painting of history.
ORFEO 1 CD C 872 151 A
This new CD by Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi offers three sonatas for cello and piano. Their compelling, emotional performances sum up several chapters of 20th-century history that go far beyond the merely musical. Sergei Prokofiev displays a masterly serenity in his songlike Sonata in C major op. 119, composed in 1949.
C 872 151 AIt makes evident his adjustment to the cultural politics of the Soviet Union – to which this world-famous composer had returned just twelve years before – but is also tailor-made for an exceptional cello-piano duo. Rostropovich and Richter gave its first performance, and Müller-Schott and Piemontesi are their worthy successors here. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata in d minor op. 40 is no less marked by fate. It was on the programme of a concert tour given by the composer and his cello partner Victor Kubatzki in 1936 when Shostakovich was put on the Stalinist index of undesirables, on orders from the very top. This was a tragic irony of fate because this Cello Sonata is highly melodic and anything but modernist in its design, giving lie to the accusation that its composer wrote “chaos instead of music”. Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi do full justice to all facets of this work – now catchy and playful, now pensive instead. And finally, Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C op. 65 marked the beginning of a productive creative friendship that was established despite many a problem posed by the Cold War. It was first performed in Aldeburgh in 1961 by the composer and Rostropovich. The five movements of this Sonata are marked by typically Brittenesque twists and turns – at times hesitant, at other times effervescent and skittish, and towards the close ever more lively and unruly in its rhythms. This Sonata offers Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi ample opportunity to unfold to the full both their technical expertise and their expressive art of interpretation.
ORFEO 1 CD C 737 151 A
Pavol Breslik has for a long time now been one of the most in-demand lyrical tenors on the world’s operatic stages – but nor has he neglected the concert scene or the Liederabend. His youthful yet masculine timbre, possessing clarity of tone and a timbre neither dark and baritonal nor overly bright, seems almost predestined for the world of Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, his song cycle to texts by Wilhelm Müller.
C 737 151 ABreslik is captivating in this new studio recording. He sweeps us along on the miller boy’s journey, falling in love with his master’s daughter, then enduring disappointment, despair and ultimately infidelity and betrayal that lead to his abandonment of life. Pavol Breslik aptly conveys all this. The text is given its full due, while his phrasing is natural and faithful to every nuance and expression, from the fresh attacca opening to the close with its long legato arches of melody in the brook’s lullaby. The brook itself – the miller boy’s constant companion – is just as eloquent in Amir Katz’s piano accompaniment. The clarity of pedalling means there is no hint of opacity, and Katz’s experience as both soloist and chamber musician allows him to convey the rich accents of Schubert’s music in all its twists and turns, its irresistible torrents and, at the close, in its serene stasis when all the ripples have been calmed. And just as the brook accompanies the miller’s boy in all his ups and downs, so too does his interpretation go beyond all the thrilling motorics to encompass a multitude of nuances across the keyboard and the dynamic spectrum, affording a maximum of variety in the strophic songs without this variety ever becoming an end in itself. And all is at the service of the text, with its shifting moods and the trials and tribulations of the miller boy’s emotional life. The exciting musical dialogue between Breslik and Katz (who will both soon be taking the miller boy’s journey to the concert halls) means that this well-loved song cycle by Schubert comes across as lively and true-to-life as any lover of the Lied could wish for.
ORFEO 1 CD C 864 141 A
This live recording is being released 20 years after Konstantin Lifschitz’s final concert at the Gnessin School. He played the Goldberg Variations there as part of his school-leaving exams at the age of 17, and performed it otherwise several times in concert at the time.
C 864 141 AThis was back then still “unusual, even very, very daring”, and Lifschitz remembers how it seemed to him at the time that even the great Mrs Kantor (his teacher) was “almost envious” of him. Lifschitz himself has never missed an opportunity to try out the work on the organ or harpsichord, though he has never ever considered giving a public performance on one of those instruments. He has often performed the work in his piano recitals and has done so on all five continents.
Foto: Sona AndreasyanWhereas there is a lack of a performing tradition for the Art of Fugue – especially on the piano – with the Goldberg Variations one runs far more obvious risks, such as an over-romanticisation of it, or playing it too drily. What is important to Lifschitz is an equilibrium of knowledge and freedom in performance. Whereas the Diabelli Variations have a quite different sense of progression, given their process of “shattering” and “cleansing” the theme, it is very different, says Lifschitz, with the Goldbergs. It is also important to Konstantin Lifschitz that Bach’s original title did not call his work “variations”, but “Veränderungen” (thus “changes” or “alterations”). The idea of a series of variations on a given theme, which in itself is so simple and obvious, is one that it seems Bach took up only with great hesitation – at least when one considers the rest of his extant oeuvre – however natural to him he might have found the compositional means that he employed in the work. But Konstantin Lifschitz feels one could also claim that Bach employs even more artfulness in hiding his skill from the listener, by distracting him with his manifold art of variation on many different levels. Today, one thing is more important to him than was the case when he made his studio recording, and in which he feels the live recording of his Würzburg concert released here comes closest to what he wants. What is indispensable to him is to integrate properly all the repeats of the individual variations.
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