Strauss – Daphne / Lincoln Center Festival 7-18-15

I went to see a concert performance of Strauss’s one-act opera Daphne last night, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, directed by Franz Welser-Möst, and a series of soloists. I’d never seen – or, to be honest, ever even heard of this opera before, but what the hell, right?

This is one of those “Apollo and Dionysos”-themed things that writers and artists in the late 19th and early twentieth century were so fond of writing about – basically, if my memory of that college Literature and Arts B survey from 1999 is correct, there is a conflict and a balance between the Apollonian (the beauty of order and reason) and the Dionysian (wildness, irrationality, wine, love and so on). They are as distinct and mutually dependent as day and night. The plot of this opera is built around this idea, and around that story we all know about the young woman Daphne who is pursued by Apollo and gets turned into a laurel tree.

The story here is a little different than the tale as told by Ovid. (There are quite a few versions of the story; the librettist, Joseph Gregor, did not come up with what follows on his own.) Daphne is still woodsy and doesn’t want a boyfriend, but here she has a recorder-playing childhood buddy named Leukippos who has fallen in love with her and Apollo does not pursue her because he has been clipped by the arrow of a miffed Eros. He just sort of shows up for some reason and decides that he and Daphne would be great together, because they like some of the same things, like sunshine.

It’s the evening of the festival of Dionysos, and Daphne does not want to go. She has rejected both the disguised Apollo and the earnest Leukippos, but during the festival Leukippos, now also in disguise, gives her a sip of wine. Apollo flips his shit, he and Leukippos get into a fight, with the young man claiming that drinking wine at the festival has turned him into Dionysos himself, and Apollo loses his temper and zaps the poor kid with a lightening bolt.

Daphne performs her final aria in what one can only assume is a sort of smoking blast crater, in which she explains that she realizes this was all her fault (because of course it is, what with her being in charge of and responsible for other people’s behav– oh, wait, no it isn’t) and she is very sorry. And then Apollo turns her into a laurel tree.

The singing was generally strong. Nancy Maultsby as Daphne’s mother Gaea, started out wobbly in what is an alarmingly low alto part; Andreas Schager was a dramatic and passionate Apollo – he was was one of the highlights for me. Daphne was sung by soprano Regine Hangler, who sounded appropriately girlish, but not small. Her voice had a powerful bright edge; most of the time, when soaring above the orchestra was called for, she soared. The last bit of the opera, where Daphne is turning into a tree (and the libretto has her keep talking long after she should stop, what with having ceased to be a person – I mean, explaining that you are now a symbol is probably not strictly necessary, especially when you’re a tree, and also, opera audiences know about symbols) contains a lot of high floaty business, and she sounded a little pinched now and then, but on the whole I was impressed.

Strauss being Strauss, the orchestral music alone is worth the price of admission – nice touches included the metallic-sounding violin representation of Daphne’s leaves at the end when she has turned into a tree, and a section earlier on where a solo violin is interacting with the soprano part. I wouldn’t mind hearing more concert performances of Strauss.

Finally, the middle name of one of the singers portraying shepherds is “Speedo.” I tried several times to find a way to work this detail into the above discussion, but I couldn’t. So there it is at the end.

Deep Thoughts About Ticket Retrieval

Over the past few days Lincoln Center has sent me a series of alarming emails about the length of the will-call line for tonight’s concert – highly unusual number of will-call tickets, get there an hour early, etc. etc. Even though my ticket was mailed to me and I have it.

  
There is definitely a line inside, but it’s still just a line. It’s not a scrum, or a mob, or a roiling sea of shrieking symphony patrons. That said, it’s only 6:35. Maybe the scrum comes later.

While we wait, let us consider what might be happening.

1. Mix-up with that MC Hawking song so instead of “all my shootings be drive bys” it’s “all my tickets be will call.”

2. Willy Wonka ticket machine that belches out the tickets broke, so all purchases within the past three weeks necessarily will-call b/c Oompa Loompas need time to hand-write tickets.

3. Cruise ship.

4. Only one person working counter; everyone else has fucked off to the beach.

5. That weird thing with the fountain happened again.

6. Welser-Möst claque up to its usual tricks.

7. The concert is actually oversold; they’re looking for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a voucher for future opera.

?

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Alice Tully Hall 7-15-15

Sometimes I wonder if chamber music isn’t a bit like art songs – it loses its force a bit when performed in a large concert hall (as opposed to a little space where the piano makes your molars vibrate). I usually wonder this at the beginning of chamber music concerts and have entirely forgotten about it by the end, which is what happened yesterday.

There were three works on the program, the last of which, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, I missed bits of because I started thinking about the fact that I would have to move my car so as not to fall afoul of the street cleaners the next morning, and got into a bit of GOD DAMN FUCKING CAR I HATE THAT CAR mode that was difficult to snap myself out of. But the first two pieces, Mozart’s violin sonata in B-Flat major K. 378 and Beethoven’s piano trio Op. 70, no. 2, had my entire attention the whole time. Particularly the pianist, Juho Pohjonen, who was really something extraordinary. My note taking skills fail me a bit on details here – I remember the little flashes of the “trout” theme in the Andantino of the Schubert, for example, and the dialogue with the violin in the Mozart, and – well, all of the Beethoven; more of that in a minute. Anyhow, that guy can play that piano. He doesn’t have any albums out yet that I could find, but I suspect he will soon.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the first half of the program is how the first piece set up the second. The Mozart, performed by Erin Keefe on violin and the aforementioned Juho Pohjonen was light and engaging, particularly the last two movements – it was a good preparation for the Beethoven trio, which was much heavier and richer. With this one, you really got a sense of how a trio of musicians can fit together as precisely as puzzle pieces, even though the puzzle is constantly moving. The rapport among this ensemble was excellent. The music seemed to be anchored by the piano and cello (Jakob Koranyi), though the violinist (Paul Huang), was no slouch either. I particularly enjoyed the little key shifts at the end of the second movement.

Also, have you ever noticed how sometimes some really weird shit goes down in Beethoven’s chamber music? It’s like:

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: [Beethoven!!]

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: [Beethoven!!] [mind wanders for an instant as someone unwraps a cough drop]

Sonata: [checks over shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then bolts for modernity, skids around corner, kicking up a shower of key changes]

Listener: What the –

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: You were –

Sonata: No I wasn’t. Here, have a cadenza.

Listener: Beethoven!!

Deep thoughts on watching the bonus from the Salzburg DVD of Schubert’s Fierrabras

1. When the director explains that there is no “concept” and then proceeds to explain the concept, which is basically a literal depiction that would have been recognizable to the opera’s initial audience: NOT HAVING A “CONCEPT” IS STILL A CONCEPT. You can’t perform something without interpreting it. That’s not how it works. I suppose here we are operating on that dangerous knife’s edge between concept and “concept.” Or concept and “concept” and Konzept.*

2. You know the libretto is bad when those in charge freely admit that a) they had to re-write bits of it so as to avoid confusing the audience and b) the cast routinely cuts up over the dialogue during rehearsals and have to work very hard to keep it together.

3. That said, I find that I don’t mind a certain amount of yelling in German in my operas.

4. This is off topic, but why does Florinda faint so much? Once when she gets into the tower and I think there’s another point when someone says “consciousness has left her” or something like that. Maybe that palace has some kind of carbon monoxide problem. Or maybe the librettist figured that since she goes around yelling (in German) and brandishing a weapon and at one point it’s even implied that she took out a guard getting into that tower, it would be best to reassure the (original 19th century) audience that she doesn’t do this sort of thing all the time.

5. I think I’ve had it with Schubert operas for a while. Dude was not cut out to be an opera composer. The music is great, but it keeps getting dragged underwater and getting the shit kicked out of it by the plot.

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*It’s a Regie knife. It has the sort of edge that three things can balance between. Among. Whatever.

New Adventures in Technology

I don’t use a lot of – well, any – streaming music services. I have more fun when I know what I have absorbed and what I haven’t, and the best way for me to do that is to buy (or, ah, otherwise permanently acquire) music and listen to it over and over as necessary. There’s something about having a well-defined music collection that I like. I know where it is, I know what’s in it and what’s not. For any given recording, I can tell you when I got it and why and what I like about it. The idea of listening to nothing but streaming music elicits an odd kind of stress reaction in me – unless I took copious notes, I would have no certain knowledge of what I’d listened to. And if I really enjoy a recording, I prefer to have it in my hot little hands so I can still listen to it if, you know, the internet goes out or I end up broke and I have to cancel things like streaming music subscriptions. Maybe it’s years of academic training, or just temperament: I feel happiest when I know what I know and what I don’t.

But Apple is offering this free trial of their streaming service, so I decided to try it. Also, I was curious how it would treat classical music. 2015-07-01 20.43.03 When you first open that part of the music app, you get an opportunity to choose your favorite genres. There were a few more options than visible in this picture – I think I’d already deleted Christian Rock and Hits and a few of the more poppy genres at this point. I do occasionally listen to things other than classical, but I wanted to keep it simple. (Also, I suppose I had better save the rant about condensing centuries of symphonies, chamber music, operas, sacred music, art songs, etc. etc. into a single genre. I mean, I would have all of those and more, and then one other category called “twentieth-century songs with a relatively simple chord progression that last about four minutes” and that would include 80% of that other stuff. This is why I am not currently employed as a designer of streaming music applications.)

Narrowing down the “artist” options took a while. Like many programs designed for pop music, this one doesn’t distinguish between composers and performers as artists. Fine, but as I think Cat once said to Lister when he read the baked potato timer rather than the impact warning sensor by mistake, things like this make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.

2015-07-01 20.44.27 2015-07-01 20.44.58 2015-07-01 20.45.17Also, who the fuck are “The Piano Guys”?* But as you can see by the last of those three images above, it appeared that I had communicated what I wanted. So I went to see what Apple recommended.

2015-07-01 20.45.48 2015-07-01 20.46.20

I like R.E.M and the Clash as much as the next person, but I was hoping for a little more focus. (Remember that time a student came to office hours to talk about her quiz average and I thought we were going to talk about her quiz average, but I ended up hearing about how the devil didn’t want her to finish school and she showed me her surgical scars from ovarian cyst removal? It was like that, except less so, and I didn’t have to worry about whether the door was closed.) I fooled around a little more to see what was listed under recent releases, mixes and so on and had more luck. I had a look at a playlist of baroque trio sonatas, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a mix of whole pieces – they kept each sonata together rather than jumbling up different movements of different things, which was what I admit I expected. And there was one album available that I’d been considering buying, a recent recording of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos (my current one is from the 60s and while good, it’s kind of  . . . old school). Searching for specific artists and recordings turned up better material, too.

Still, despite the self-evident seductions of options like “Alice Coote Radio,”** I’m not sure a subscription would be worth it for me, even though the try-before-you-buy aspect is attractive. (I admit, I got to thinking that I would like to do my own radio station. It would be called Radio Free Earworm and it would consist entirely of things that I like, sometimes on loops, interspersed with me reading selections from seventeenth-century colonial records. I would put Finn on to do the overnights, as the sounds of a small happy dog sleeping are rather soothing if you like dogs.)

_____________

*Don’t worry, I googled.

**For any artist, you can select an “[insert artist here] Radio” option that gives you a mix of tracks by that artist.

Music for the Expression of Mild Frustration

One of the interesting details about life in the United States is that different states have different registration requirements for cars. So, if you happened to buy a car, in say, Mississippi, all you had to do initially was attach one (1) license plate to the back. But if you move that car to, say, New York State, you have to re-register the car AND you need two (2) license plates, one on the front and one on the back. The interesting thing about cars purchased in Mississippi, however, is that they do not come equipped with front license plate mounts. Thus the unsuspecting motorist may all too easily find that she has one more license plate than she has legal places to stick it.

The absence of a front license plate mount is nothing that a two hour trip to the Honda dealership in Jamaica (Jamaica, Queens – not the other one) can’t solve. But then have you ever attached one these things to your bumper? It’s conceptually simple – there are holes for a little set of screws to go through already in the bumper, and the plate mount comes with a little set of brackets that snap in place to help the screws get purchase – but in practical terms more difficult. The holes are hard to find, the screws do not want to go in the holes, one is sitting there on the ground on the street in the sun contorting one’s neck around to get a good look at where those damn holes got to and why won’t it JUST GO IN THERE and then finally you get the damn thing on and what do you discover? THE HOLES IN THE PLATE DON’T MATCH THE HOLES IN THE MOUNT SO YOU CAN’T GET THE SCREWS IN TO ATTACH THE PLATE. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.

This is why we have zip-ties, I guess:

2015-06-26 13.11.16 HDR

So then you roll redneck-style to the auto shop to get your inspection sticker and also to see if they can maybe fix this little license plate situation for you.

And you sing this all the way. Not that my car is actually a piece of shit. It’s a gently used and well-maintained Honda Civic, which means it’s safe, reliable, fuel-efficient and boring, which is exactly how I like my cars. But I couldn’t come up with any vehicle-related opera moments that seemed appropriate.

I mean, there’s a lot of arias about boats, but those are always metaphorical, you know? There’s a boat in the storm, and you’re the boat, and you have to ride out the storm, or trust your pilot, or whatever. There’s never an aria about, you know, “this f^&%ing boat, I can’t believe this boat, why does the f&^&ing Prince of Parma or whatever require me to have front and back plates on this f##%%king thing, son of a bitch license plates, I don’t even care if there IS a storm, I just want to not get a f^&*ing ticket because my boat in this storm is not displaying its f#$%*ing tags correctly,” you know?

It is a piano trio sort of day

Beethoven piano trios, to be precise. This is the Zingara Trio, whose recording of the Archduke and Ghost trios I have – it has the advantage of being both cheap and good, and if you like horses, there is one on the cover. I have never been able to figure out exactly what the horse has to do with either of the piano trios, but this is one of those things that I am willing to let go.  I haven’t been able to track down any other Beethoven recordings of theirs, but apparently they exist, because they’re on YouTube.

**

Update: I told myself a while back that I was not going to purchase any new music for the rest of 2015, with the exception of 1) Dorothea Röschmann’s Mozart CD and the Fierrabras DVD from Salzburg and the Wigmore Hall live one once it comes out and 2) Joyce DiDonato’s next recording. There is a third exception to rule, which is Beethoven piano trios and Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart sonata recordings. (I am aware that many of these three exceptions contain additions and sub-exceptions. It is like what Mark Twain said about rules in German grammar: there are usually more exceptions to the rule than there are instances of it.)

Horszowski Trio / Bargemusic – 6-21-15

I caught a performance of three piano trios yesterday afternoon, Beethoven’s Op. 1 no. 2, Shostakovich’s No. 2 in E minor, and Schumann’s No. 2 in F major.

The highlight of the program (for me, anyway) was the Shostakovich. After the energetic playing of the Aeolus Quartet last week, this trio sounded more restrained; I was worried at the start of the Shostakovich that it was going to be more genteel a performance than I like. (The last one I heard live was the Claremont Trio either May 2014 or the previous May – it is sad that I cannot remember when that was – and it was pretty great; not genteel in the slightest.) This apprehension of mine continued into the second movement, but by the end of that, it was sounding a little more wild and crazy and Shostakovich-like. The best part, though, was the final movement. The pianist used the (what is it called – sustaining pedal? the one that holds the note) early in the movement, and the tempo was slower than I am used to, so that the notes of the piano part rang and lingered in one’s head; it was very distinctive. Very soon I was in total immersion mode. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the finale of that piece quite as much – that feeling of being physically pressed by the music, such that you don’t want it to end. I never realized how much was in that last movement before.

This led to a sort of Shostakovich finale holdover effect for the Schumann trio, the last item on the program. I was feeling very relaxed and happy and cheerful, and my attention hadn’t waned a bit – I have pretty much no memory of the Schumann, but I do recall enjoying it as it was happening.  (I remember reading Edith Wharton saying once that whenever she had a really good conversation, she could never remember any of it afterward – I suspect it was a similar kind of thing.)

And I have taken a gamble. I know that I will have jury duty sometime in the latter end of August. Nevertheless, I have tickets for two concerts during that time. I am betting that 1) I will not get picked to be on a jury or 2) operations will end soon enough each day that I can get from the Queens courthouse to Alice Tully in time.

Juilliard415 / Royal Academy of Music – Bach concert at Alice Tully Hall 6-15-15

Apparently everyone else in the world has been at BEMF these past two weeks. I was feeling a bit mopey that I was not also at BEMF, but that is entirely my own fault. However, I went to this concert last night, which was pretty much ok. The ensemble and chorus were a mixture of people from the Juilliard School here in New York and the Royal Academy of Music in London, with Masaaki Suzuki conducting. Also, Rachel Podger was the concertmistress. I was disappointed that she wasn’t one of the soloists for the Bach double violin concerto, but this concert seemed to be arranged mainly to offer a series of young instrumental soloists and the very (they all looked about 22!) young members of the ensemble a chance to perform.

And it wasn’t disappointing. I mentioned the Bach double concerto, so I’ll start with that. I love this piece – I played both parts of it as a violin student many years ago, and every time I hear it I’m surprised how much of it I still have basically memorized. The two soloists, Davina Clarke and Carrie Krause, directed the ensemble (a slimmed down subset of the fuller orchestra used for the two Bach cantatas that formed the remainder of the program) themselves as they played; this approach emphasized the more intimate chamber-music aspects of the concerto. (Also: have you ever noticed how baroque violinists don’t use chin or shoulder rests? It looks so awkward to me, but it’s HIP standard I guess, and probably if you’re used to it it works just fine.) The interplay between soloists and ensemble was very fine, especially in the second movement, which had an expressive pulse to it that was pretty much right on.

The two Bach cantatas (BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, and  BWV 11, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen) were a little hit and miss. Among the hits were mezzo-soprano Anna Harvey, whose singing had a really beautiful ease of expression – I particularly liked “Ach, bleibe doch” from BWV 11, and her various moments of recitative sounded fluent and natural. I just checked her schedule, and apparently she was also at BEMF this year. Unlike me. But anyway. Soprano Mary Feminear has one of those voices that projects brilliantly, although in her first aria there were a few sudden warming-up type jolts of volume – it made me wish that I could hear her sing something more extended so I could get a better feel for what she sounds like. She also had a minor hurdle to clear in the form of the woodwind section, which did not always operate to specifications. I attended this concert with my mom, who played the flute for about 30 years and who comes from a family where pretty much everyone plays some sort of wind or brass instrument; she leaned over to me after Feminear’s last aria in BWV 11, “Jesu, dein Gnadenblicke,” which had extended solo writing for two baroque flutes and an oboe, and noted that the flutes were flat. It was not entirely their fault – strings tend to push sharp as a concert goes on (apparently brass as well?) and with a modern metal flute you can adjust, but with wooden baroque ones it’s harder. So any intonation issues in that last section can be pinned squarely on the flutes. Also, that oboe player? He also had several solo parts in BWV 75, and that young man was oboeing by the seat of his pants at several points – he was on the verge of the dreaded oboe squawk during I believe it was “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich.” Which is appropriate I guess?

But the baroque trumpet soloists were great – they got an extended chance to shine in the opening and closing choruses of BWV 11 as well as at several points in the first cantata.

So. All in all, not bad.

Aeolus Quartet / 6-14-15

I have been asked recently whether I am dead because I haven’t posted much. I am not dead. Very much alive and well, and in addition to the whole not-dead thing, I had the pleasure of hearing a recital by the Aeolus Quartet yesterday at Bargemusic; the program was Beethoven’s String Quartet #13 (minus the Grosse Fugue) and Dvořák’s Op. 81 Piano quintet (with pianist Rita Sloan). The Beethoven I’ve heard many times, but the Dvořák was new to me.

There was the odd slip and squeak and a few moments where the rhythm didn’t quite seem to hold together (e.g. in the cavatina of the Beethoven quartet), but on the whole this was an exciting performance. These musicians were at their best when they had something big and exuberant to tear into, like the presto (second movement) of the Beethoven, which elicited its own little round of applause (we were cheerfully informed by the first violinist that we could clap whenever we wanted, which turned out to be often) or the furiant in the Dvořák piece, which I thought was terrific – the four strings and the piano are passing around a series of little dance themes, and they did it in a way that really clicked. There were plenty of quieter moments too, like the rippling little theme of the Dumka (second movement ) of the Dvořák that were also really compelling.

I haven’t heard a live chamber ensemble since I think last summer, and every time I do, I remember why I like it so much. You can hear the individual parts far more distinctly than on a recording, and – well, it’s just fun. (I went home and went on a bit of a ticket bender for Mostly Mozart later in the summer. Yeah!)

If I ever went back to Japan and became involved in some kind of piano emergency, I might be somewat prepared

It has been pointed out to me that my CD collection cannot continue to expand indefinitely, so I have been trying to put myself on a sort of reduced acquisition plan. (You know how sometimes a CD cabinet will say it can hold 612 discs? And then you forget that half of yours are actually 2 or 3 disc sets that take up more room? And you end up with overflow? Yeah.)  I intend to buy only three recordings for the rest of the year. We will see how this goes. The plan has already met with some skepticism.

On the other hand, it’s kind of good because there are things currently in the collection that I haven’t listened to in literally years, such as this:

It’s from a set of Wanda Landowska’s recordings of Mozart piano sonatas. It’s one of those things that I bought for reasons I can’t recall now (I think it was because I have a Bach recording of hers that I like) but every time I hear it I wonder why I don’t listen to it more often. (Also, it’s one of those CDs of mine that pop up in Haruki Murakami’s novels, along with a Brian Asawa Scarlatti cantata CD and one or two others – oddly enough, this Landowska CD is an import from Japan; the liner notes are entirely in Japanese. Which brings my Japanese competency to three items 1. hello 2. thanks 3. if I studied a bit, I bet I could recognize the characters for “piano” in an emergency.)

Today in More Ideas We Ought to Drop

This thing where “classical music” is “calming.”
IMG_0508This is from a bulletin board at the gym on how to reduce stress during exam week. I don’t know about you, but I do not normally emerge from Carnegie Hall in a stupor. I’m usually sort of twitchy and hyper and excited.

The thing is, of course, listening to classical music can be calming, because if you are focusing completely on what you are listening to (even if it’s a barnstorming rendition of Lady Macbeth’s “or tutti sorgete” which is not what I would call calming, unless perhaps you are Lady Macbeth) you are probably not thinking about what is stressing you out, and thus you’re giving yourself a break from the stress – but this effect can be achieved with any music that is interesting enough to hold your attention. Possibly this effect is more powerful with more abstract music – it’s not “about” anything (sort of like how asking what a Rothko painting is “about” is the wrong question, you know?) and so even if it evokes a strong response in you as a listener, that emotional response is unlikely to have any direct relationship to, say, your organic chemistry final. Or, you could treat yourself to a good cry over some Wagner, and even if you were dissolving your mascara in the Liebestod and thus not at all calm, you would – again – have at least had a rest from Spanish verbs or marketing jargon.

Concert Etiquette: a proposition

Having read Anne Midgette’s discussion of concert behavior I propose two rules for going to concerts. 

1. Wear whatever you want. I can pretty much promise you that everyone else in the audience gives precisely zero fucks about your outfit. There are some things that you probably should not wear, but only because they are disruptive and/or unsanitary – e.g things with bells, stovepipe hats, assless chaps, etc. etc. (I gave this some consideration, and the only reason I can think of for wearing chaps to a classical concert is that you went clubbing with Anna Netrebko, and at 5.00am in a warehouse outside of Amsterdam she gave you a friendly hug and whipped a sharpie from her $5000 diamond-studded clutch and suggested that you autograph one another’s asses as a souvenir of the evening. In this case and this case only you may wear assless chaps. Because you’ve earned it.) 

2. Be quiet during the music. Be quiet be quiet be quiet. Be quiet. Do not snore. Do not snap your water bottle. Do not rustle around in bags looking for things. Be quiet. I say this as someone who still has relatively young hearing and can filter out noise to some degree. But other music lovers do not have young hearing. They do not need your noise. They do not want your noise. Besides, concert halls are designed to carry sound. None of us want your noise. So be quiet. Be quiet.

Just when you think you don’t need another Handel recital . . .

It turns out that you do. I went through an intensive Handel buying phase between about 2003 and 2005, so I have a lot of CDs that came out then or a few years before. I haven’t bought many Handel recitals (as opposed to complete operas) in a while, because after a certain point you realize that you have on your shelf fifteen different people singing “scherza, infida” and a different fifteen singing “se pietà” and in at least one case the same person singing each of those but on different CDs, and after a certain point you begin to experience diminishing returns.

IMG_0558On the other hand, there is this recital CD by Alice Coote, with the English Concert and Harry Bicket, that is really very arrestingly good. I particuarly liked the excerpts from Alcina  – “mi lusinga il dolce affetto” has the same delicacy and intimacy that I remember from hearing Coote in that concert performance of this opera last fall, and in “verdi prati” she has this way of stretching out the phrases but in such a way that there is a sort of springy energy holding them together. You know how sometimes singers are criticized for “limp” phrasing? Well, this is the opposite of that. Every moment expresses Ruggiero’s sense of vanishing beauty.

The sections from Hercules are also a highlight – I always find myself thinking it kind of a bonus that Handel ended up in England and thus wrote several oratorios to English texts. With “Cease ruler of the day to rise” the contrast in my head was DiDonato, whose renditions of this express a kind of beautiful anguish; Coote’s offers a deeply felt sadness and regret. Different, but I am more than happy to have both.

Dorothea Röschmann and Mitsuko Uchida / Carnegie Hall 4-22-15

This recital almost – almost – brought me around to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben. Only to the point where I will listen to this cycle if 1) Dorothea Röschmann is singing them 2) live.  I realize that this is a fairly specific set of conditions, but keep in mind that it’s a fairly irritating set of songs. 

But before those, we had Schumann’s Op. 39 Liederkreis and Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs. I have heard several live recordings of Frau R singing the Liederkreis, and I’ve said my bit about that elsewhere. What marked this performance out for me was Uchida on the piano – there was something slower and more meditative about this performance than those others. “In der Fremde” (the first song) was gentler than I remember, and “Intermezzo” was similarly more relaxed. I also noticed with these first two songs that beginning-of-concert feel where the singer’s voice sort of stretches out and fits itself into the space of the concert hall. Having heard our friend Röschmann in recital in both the smaller Zankel auditorium at Carnegie Hall as well as the bigger main stage, I will say that there is nothing in my memory that quite compares to being in the front row in that smaller space – you miss nothing. That said, I was sitting for the first time in the First Tier in the big hall, and while one might miss a few subtleties of acting, the sound from that part of the auditorium is excellent. If my memory is correct, Röschmann is not on the schedule for Carnegie Hall’s 15-16 season, so I might not hear her voice for a while; part of the pleasure of the Liederkreis for me was just savoring how she sounds. (Including her low notes. Based on a cursory reading of the internet I have gathered that not everyone likes those. I like them. They have a different color than the rest of her voice, and – well, I like them. That’s all.)

That said, my favorite bits of that cycle have not changed, e.g. the ache of the “wie bald, ach wie bald” line in “In der Fremde,” or the last lines of “Waldesgesprach” where the witch reveals to the traveller that he is in the woods for the duration, or – speaking of low notes – the last stanza of “Zwielicht,” especially the “hüte dich, sei wach und munter!” line. In “Die stille” I was reminded again of how she can turn a little song into a miniature opera. 

I had heard the Alban Berg songs before, but I never really absorbed them. Between Röschmann and Uchida I had a sense this time of understanding much better how they work – “Shilflied” and “Die Nachtigall” were particularly beautiful (I have “I get it!” written in the margin of my notes). 

Finally, that other set of Schumann songs. First – a point that emerged with bell-like clarity in “seit ich ihn gesehen” – it’s hard not to like something thing that is sung so beautifully. But what did it for me was something characteristic of Röschmann’s interpretive style. Her performances always come with great force of feeling, and what she did in “er, der herrlichste von allen,” for example, was to take the youthful innocence of the character, the force of the young woman’s love and desire (e.g. in the line “holde Lippen, klares Auge”) and present them so honestly that my resistence to the treacly text was just – knife edge, here – overcome. The same is true of the deep earnestness of the protagonist in “du Ring an meinem Finger.” Throughout the cycle, we’re given the music and text as simply: this is how this young woman feels. And because she (Röschmann) is so in character, it works. Apparently the trick of this cycle is to take it at its word and go with it. And the end of the last song, when the Magic Husband has died – those last lines were quiet, intimate and charged with grief. 

Röschmann and Uchida did two encores, Schubert’s setting of “Nur wer die Sennsucht kennt” and Wolf’s “Kennst du das Land.” I loved Uchida’s playing in the second in particular – especially in the wave of sound before “kennst du es wohl?” and the drawing back afterward. 

I came out of this recital feeling very satisfied. I think I may be experiencing with Röschmann’s song recitals what I have been experiencing with Joyce DiDonato’s opera performances: one is chasing the dragon to some exent, since it’s never going to be quite like the first time, but it’s always worth it. 

Purcell – Dido and Aeneas / Les Violons du Roy / Carnegie Hall 4-12-15

I was reminded of one thing during this concert, and I think I may have learned a second thing. The first is the difference between your average run of the mill good but not stunning soprano voice and your international-stardom-and-obsessive-fanbase-creating voice. Except for Hélène Guilmette (Belinda) and Hank Neven (Aeneas) the other singers in this concert (a series of scenes and arias and instrumental music from Purcell’s operas in the first half, and then Dido and Aeneas after the jump) were also members of the chorus. I registered a series of light pretty soprano and mezzo voices in the various scenes – and then when Frau R sang “oh, let me weep” from The Fairy Queen suddenly every molecule of air in that hall was alive with sound.

It was a difference of volume and color and also a difference in style. One could probably claim with some justification that Röschmann was not operating in quite the same mode as the other singers. This is an opera with cackling witches (ably and humorously sung by Vicki St. Pierre, Lesley Emma Bousa and Shiela Dietrich), a light-hearted sailor song and charming little interlude airs in odd places, like the Second Woman’s “oft she visits” number in the hunt/storm scene. The scene from The Fairy Queen during the first part of the concert, with the belching drunken poet in which the music itself sounds a little drunk to match, or the chaconne from ditto a little later, is from a different opera, but not a different planet. It’s not that Dido and Aeneas isn’t the intended to be serious or moving – the beauty and delicacy of the instrumental music is proof enough of that – it’s just seriousness of a particular style.  And then you’re hit with Röschmann’s “peace and I are strangers” and it’s like whoa where did THAT come from. But of course it’s obvious where it came from : it’s Dorothea Röschmann offering us her whole soul and beating heart from the very first moment of the performance. Whether that is how you like your Purcell is a different question. I am happy to go on record stating that I am more than happy to hear Purcell performed like Strauss if it works – and as far as I’m concerned, in this case it worked.  The duet with Aeneas before he leaves Carthage, which appears in so many musical and textual guises in so many different operatic versions of this story that I have simply tagged it in my head as “Dido and Aeneas are fighting” – whatever you call it, it was electric. And Röschmann’s characteristic  style does not rub the music the wrong way – in both “oh, let me weep” from The Fairy Queen and in Dido’s final lament, the instrumental accompaniment is subtle rather than torrential (in some parts, just the harpsichord, lute and a violin) but it’s more than capable of holding everything that she was pouring into it. (No doubt Richard Egarr, whose harpsichord stylings I have long admired, and Les Violons du Roy had something to do with the this too.)

And by the end, the drama had caught up to the interpretation. Dido* as performed by Frau R operates with this massive emotional force that makes the other characters seem less substantial – not poorly sung by any means, just not as powerful or vibrant, while Dido is just a sort of continuous storm of feeling. The “thy hand, Belinda” recitative that leads into “when I am laid in earth” was incredible – it was suddenly so intimate, and yet the overall scale had not changed: this was big enough for an opera stage but subtle as a song recital, and the way Röschmann shaped the music and text right then was one of those moments where she’s singing in English but it feels and sounds the way her singing does when she’s singing in German. I felt as if I was being shown precisely how opera is created, how something done on so large a scale can also be so subtle.

Stray observations: the scene where Dido and Aeneas are about to fall into one another’s arms – it is unclear to me why Belinda is in the room, other than to urge Dido on. Seems to me like that could get awkard real fast. Also, if you ever wondered how to say “come on, what could go wrong?” in sevententh-century English, I think it’s “fear no danger to ensue.”

After sticking around to clap for a very long time with everyone else, I went over to Alice Tully Hall for a second concert that I do not think I did full justice to as a listener because I was kind of wiped from the first one. This was a song recital by Sarah Connolly. (Where I wolfed a brownie during intermission in order to remain alert and also got to meet some Twitter buddies!)

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*Every time I type “Dido” and then a space, my phone thinks I’m trying to type DiDonato. I guess this is what you might call a textbook case of reaping what you sow.

In Which We Have A Plan

Just like the Cylons of celebrated memory. My plan, however, is both more and less complex and far-reaching than theirs. I have two tickets for concerts on Sunday, April 12. One is to hear Les Violons du Roy and some other people perform Dido and Aeneas at 2:00 at Carnegie Hall. The other ticket is for Sarah Connolly’s recital at Alice Tully Hall which starts at 5:00.

The plan is as follows: Go to hear the Purcell. Then RUN to Lincoln Center and possibly miss the first part of Connolly’s recital. But maybe make it. At least, make the second half. Or, if there are any cancellations or whatnot vis-a-vis the first concert, proceed at normal speed to Lincoln center and hear the whole of the recital.

I run about an 8:35 mile, but that’s on a trail, not in Manhattan, and I will probably be wearing non-optimal shoes. We shall see how well this works.