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.
ORFEO 3 CD C 846 153 D
Even at the big opera houses it’s a real stroke of luck if a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni doesn’t just have a charismatic Don, but a whole ensemble that’s able to exert its magnetism over the assembled audience (and who thus manage not to follow the Don’s example – after all, his attempts at conquest go awry throughout the opera, with only the memories of earlier conquests remaining).
C 846 153 DThis rare constellation – having an engaging title hero whose gifts are matched by the objects of his passion – in fact came about in 1973 at the Munich Opera Festival. Ruggero Raimondi was in his early 30s at the time and his unmistakeable, agile, irresistible bass-baritone voice veritably conquered the Bavarian State Opera. In the process he established himself as the Don Giovanni of his generation. But while he was the centre of attention, he was by no means the only sensation of the production. With Margaret Price as Donna Anna, Julia Varady as Donna Elvira and Lucia Popp as Zerlina he was faced with a trio of sopranos who in their individual arias and in their numerous, tricky ensemble numbers turned the evening into a musical feast – as we can now hear in this live recording of the opening night. In the midst of these powerful, highly individual personalities, Hermann Winkler’s lyric dramatic tenor and Stafford Dean’s agile lyric buffo bass were well able to hold their ground as Don Ottavio and the servant Leporello respectively. Enrico Fissore offered a vigorous Masetto, while Giovanni’s final descent into hell – which leaves shivers down many a spine – was made doubly gripping by the dark bass of Kurt Moll’s Commendatore and by Wolfgang Sawallisch at the helm of the Bavarian State Orchestra. This was a Don Giovanni of fast-paced tempi, with a momentum brilliantly geared to the dramatic trajectory, carried by the lyrical qualities of its singers, and with a perfect sense of poise and exhilarating intimacy at just the right moments.
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In the world of opera there are certain roles for every type of voice that can crown a singer’s stage career. For the basso profondo, these are clearly – and suitably – the majestic roles of King Philip II in Verdi’s Don Carlos and Tsar Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s opera of the same name. Those who have sung these two roles on the great stages of the world are a handpicked group, and among their number is the Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto (who also enjoys much success in comic roles).
C 887 141 BFor almost 30 years he has been a regular guest at the Vienna State Opera – as also in the current season, performing in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina on its opening night and singing the role of Fiesco in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (one of his other famed roles). The above-mentioned rulers in the operas by these same two composers – Boris Godunov and Philip II (whom Furlanetto will also sing at the New York Met in 2015) – are on the programme of Furlanetto’s new portrait CD in the series “Vienna State Opera Live”. Ferruccio Furlanetto has performed both roles several times at the Vienna State Opera. As a master of vocal characterization and psychological nuance, Furlanetto particularly understands how to give expression to the loneliness of both men – such as here in excerpts from Don Carlos in 1997 and 2001 (conducted by Michael Halász and Vjekoslav šutej) in the duet of the King with the Marquis von Posa (here sung by Carlos Álvarez), in the famous aria “Ella giammai m’amò”, and in the ensuing confrontations with the Grand Inquisitor (Eric Halfvarson) and Elisabeth, his supposedly unfaithful queen (Miriam Gauci). Ferruccio Furlanetto also impresses and moves us as Boris Godunov, both in the Kremlin scene in the second version of Mussorgsky’s opera, here in a production from 2007 under the baton of Daniele Gatti, and also in the death scene of the original version, sung under Tugan Sokhiev in 2012. As in his Verdi interpretations, Ferruccio Furlanetto also demonstrates a keen sensitivity to the shape and phrasing of the music in the Russian idiom. He is a bass who, according to the demands of the drama, can offer the darkest of tone colours and vocal shadings, and yet can rise above the human abysses of his characters to maintain the beauty of the musical line throughout.
ORFEO 1 CD C 873 141 A
Baiba Skride is almost unparalleled in her virtuosic, idiomatic mastery of the standard solo violin repertoire. But that is not all, for her concert calendar and her discography also repeatedly feature works by lesser-known composers. In September 2013 she played Karol Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto at the Proms in London, accompanied by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vasily Petrenko.
C 873 141 AShe has also recorded the same composer’s Second Violin Concerto in the studio, along with the duo cycle Myths with Lauma Skride at the piano. Szymanowski’s music fascinates above all on account of its stylistic variety. His oeuvre can be divided into several different phases; the early piano and chamber music clearly betrays the influence of Skryabin and Chopin, with the works of the latter serving as a decisive inspiration to Szymanowski as co-founder of the “Young Poland” music movement. On his journeys through Europe and to Africa, Szymanowski’s music developed further. He was initially inspired by the music of Wagner, Strauss and Schreker, then became increasingly attracted by archaic topics and drew on these in his musical concepts. The abovementioned works in Baiba Skride’s most recent recording allow us to trace this path that Szymanowski took, beginning with the chamber duo Myths, which refer to ancient times in a quasi-Impressionistic fashion, depicting characters such as “Narcissus” and the “Dryads and Pan” in iridescent colours. The First Violin Concerto was given its world première one year later, in 1916, and goes beyond this aesthetic. The poem on which it is based – May Night by Tadeusz Micinski – also contains references to myths, though Szymanowski uses its nocturnal atmosphere after the manner of Gustav Mahler, eschewing any clear programme. Instead, he creates beguiling melodic lines and duets between the solo violin and individual instrumental groups (especially the woodwind). The Second Violin Concerto of 1932, on the other hand, offers Baiba Skride and the orchestra the opportunity to savour the full force of Szymanowski’s late style: in the Finale, clear, rhythmically structured sections with folkloristic echoes are united with the violin’s melodic lines to create an unexpectedly triumphal close that Szymanowski himself never surpassed.
As every year, Orfeo’s Salzburg “Festival Documents” this year recall seminal artists from the history of the Festival. First and foremost here we must mention Claudio Abbado, who died in January 2014. He conducted many concerts and operas in Salzburg, and not just with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. He also led international youth orchestras to major successes at the Festival.
C 892 141 BThis is impressively documented by our CD with his live recording of the first concert of the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1979 in a programme as varied as it was ambitious, ranging from Beethoven via Prokofiev and Stravinsky to Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw with the Vienna Jeunesse Choir and Maximilian Schell as the narrator. This programme is complemented on the CD by a recording of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in the Night on a bald mountain by Modest Mussorgsky – a composer whom Abbado did much to rehabilitate through championing the original versions of his works.
We have reason to remember another great conductor in 2014, as he would have turned 100 years old this August: Ferenc Fricsay. His career was cut short by his all-too-early death in 1963, but his interpretations in Salzburg set standards of excellence. This was certainly the case with the German-language stage première of Frank Martin’s Le vin herbé. This production is now available as a historic live recording. Fricsay makes a strong impression with his confident sense of style in this unusual musical idiom for the tale of Tristan and Isolde. Julius Patzak and Maria Cebotari sing the main roles – both very different from those in Richard Wagner’s opera, but sung no less expressively here. In contrast to Wagner, too, this opera has a balanced overall ensemble, and the Chorus of the Vienna State Opera under Fricsay gives an audibly committed performance.
Homogenous ensemble-playing and the art of listening to each other were also features of the performance of the Borodin Quartet at the Salzburg Festival in 1961. Their Salzburg première of the Eighth String Quartet by Dmitri Shostakovich confirmed them as one of the leading ensembles not just for works by this composer, but for Russian and contemporary music in general. Above and beyond this, the Borodin Quartet also demonstrated its immense stylistic competence in works by Brahms and Ravel, whose music framed the work by Shostakovich that was at the core of the evening. Their performance of these other composers was no less subtle in its dynamism and agogic power.
For purists there was an all-Mozart programme with the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1980 Festival, with no less a figure than Karl Böhm on the podium.
C 893 141 BIt was to be his farewell to the Festival, though no one would have thought it, given the clarity and crispness of his interpretations of the A-major symphony K 201 and the Haffner Symphony K 385. With Maurizio Pollini he had a partner at the piano for the “Little Coronation Concerto” K 459 who audibly shared his perception of music-making and was similarly able to illuminate the music as if from within. Together with Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic, he brought this concerto to perfection.
The collection of selections from various song recitals from 1956 to 2010 is in celebration of the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss. No less than 18 exceptional Strauss singers perform here, and we list them in the order as they are heard in the edition: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Lisa Della Casa, Irmgard Seefried, Nicolai Gedda, Christa Ludwig, Hermann Prey, Leontyne Price, Peter Schreier, Edita Gruberova, Jessye Norman, Edith Mathis, Marjana Lipovšek, Heinz Zednik, Frederica von Stade, Francisco Araiza, Thomas Hampson, Diana Damrau and Michael Volle.
C 894 142 IThey offer a cross-section on CD of the more than 200 songs by this composer, ranging from famous early songs such as Die Nacht and Zueignung via excerpts from the rarely heard Krämerspiegel to late settings of poems by Friedrich Rückert.
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The first performance of a series, they say, isn’t always the best. But this basic tenet of the theatre also deserves closer examination with the benefit of hindsight. At first glance, connoisseurs of the Bayreuth Festival and its recording history will think there can be little that is new about a live recording of the Bayreuth Tannhäuser that Wieland Wagner directed in 1961, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.
C 888 143 DIt was only in the following Festival summer that Sawallisch’s achievements on the rostrum were particularly well documented in audio form, with Wolfgang Windgassen as the title hero and, alongside him, Grace Bumbry in her international breakthrough role as the “black Venus”. But in 1961, Victoria de los Angeles sang Elisabeth and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (at his last Bayreuth Festival) the role of Wolfram. As the critics noted, the opening night suffered not just from what were presumably the usual first-night tension and nerves, but also from the adverse, rainy weather that dogged the first week of the Festival and that meant the common cold was doing the rounds. The discovery in radio archives of a Tannhäuser from the second of the subsequent performances is thus a real find, and it is being released on CD in 2014 in the series of historical recordings of the Bayreuth Festival. By a stroke of luck, all the protagonists were on form on the evening of 3 August 1961, as we can now hear for the first time. This allowed Wolfgang Sawallisch to maintain his stringent reading of the Tannhäuser score. His tempi were taut, but still allowed for a decisive hint of elasticity, with slight rubati and adjustments according to the phrasing of the individual singers. As so often in a cast that was assembled in large part by Wieland Wagner, we can here discern a balance between lyrical voices and a subtle, psychologically precise art of characterisation – which is particularly the case with Victoria de los Angeles, who sings the role of Elisabeth in a songlike manner, without any undue intensification towards a youthful-dramatic vocal interpretation of the role (which some of her colleagues have taken to excess). Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau outdoes himself once again as Wolfram, and the “parting couple” at the outset – Grace Bumbry and Wolfgang Windgassen – here achieve a perfect balance of love’s lust and sorrow (perhaps better than they ever had before, or ever would again). Sometimes a second attempt is worth more than twice the trouble.
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Symphonie & Konzert