Tag: Mozart

Wednesday Evening Miscellany with Bonus Unrelated Photo of Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma Banging a Gong


I stepped out of my usual rut last night, in the sense that instead of German art songs, I went to a recital of (mostly) Russian art songs by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I am pleased to report that I can now reliably repeat his last name, because I took care to look at the program so as not to be caught out on such an elementary item – earlier, even having heard him once at the Met before, I would have been able to say it started with H, ended with -sky and that there was Russian in the middle, but that would have been about the limit. So. Hvorostovsky.

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On the bright side, the Respighi was loud enough to drown out the audience noises

Have you ever had a concert experience that just didn’t work out? I did on Saturday. Partly I think it was the result of having been to the opera the night before and then spent the afternoon listening to a bootleg of Norma, which is one of those things that is perhaps a questionable choice under any circumstances, and thus being a little worn out – but partly I think it was the fault of whoever decided on the programming for the New York Philharmonic’s concert.

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Röschmann – Mozart Arias

81+KhfgQcILThe material on this album will be familiar to those who caught the concert broadcast version last winter. I knew going in that it would be mostly the same selections, but I wasn’t sure whether Röschmann, Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony would record it separately in the studio, or whether the album would be pieced together from the recorded concerts. It’s the latter (minus the piano concerto that the live audience heard). One might not immediately realize that this was a live concert, though – all the audience noises and applause have been removed.

It’s a disc of Mozart arias from roles that Röschmann built her operatic career on – the Countess’s two arias from Figaro, Donna Elvira’s “Mi tradì”, Vitellia’s “deh, se piacer me vuoi” and “non più di fiori” from La Clemenza di Tito. There are also two arias from Idomeneo, one of which die hard Röschmaniacs will have heard her sing before if they’ve got the bootleg of her as Ilia at the Met in 2006, and another of Elettra’s. The program finishes with a concert aria that I had never heard before the broadcast last year, “bella mia fiamma, addio”.

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Mostly Bach But Also Some Schumann: Joshua Bell, Andrew Manze, and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra 8-18-15

The first item on the program of Tuesday’s concert was Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, which, like the Schumann symphony after the intermission, used the full orchestra; a smaller set of musicians remained to accompany violinist Joshua Bell for the second item, Bach’s violin concerto in E major, BWV 1042, which Bell directed himself.

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Damrau, Villazón, Prohaska, Selig / Nézet-Séguin

page_1_thumb_largeThis live recording of Die Entführung aus dem Serail conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin follows those of Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, the latter of which I bought because Joyce DiDonato was in it, and the former because why the hell not, and also Miah Persson. Both of those proved to be mixed bags. So is this one. There is some overlap of casts, but the only singer common to all three is Rolando Villazón, which choice – well, as they say, nobody likes it, but it keeps happening.

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Emerson String Quartet / Alice Tully Hall 8-3-15

Have you ever worried on entering a concert hall that your perfectly good ticket will be rejected for no reason? This actually happened to me yesterday – sort of, anyway.

I got an email from the Mostly Mozart Festival late yesterday afternoon informing everyone who had tickets for the evening’s concert that there was a pre-concert recital at 6:30, at which the Emerson Quartet would perform one of Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets. Have you ever seen that movie Run, Lola, Run? (I think in German it’s Lola rennt). Anyway, my trip from my house to Alice Tully Hall which began slightly after 5:40 resembled that movie, in that there was some running – this is why we wear Converse to concerts, and not high heels – but it was mostly just sitting in the subway looking jumpy and then darting and weaving around people in Manhattan. So if there was a 1998 German movie about my experience, it would be probably called Ohrwurm eilt and other than my dramatic dash down the subway steps and explosion through the closing doors of an E train, it would probably actually be kind of boring.

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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!!

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.)

Mozart at the Stavovske divadlo (Estates Theater)

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/5ac/30104774/files/2014/12/img_0695.jpg This is the theater where two of Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito premiered. These happen to be two of my favorite operas, so naturally I had to take a look.

The interior of the theater feels – I think petite is the right word. The stairs and hallways for each level aren’t grand or sweeping, but there little mirrors and teal blue velvet seats tucked into little corners, and a rather charming snack bar area sort of folded in halfway up. I don’t know how much the interior has been remodeled since the late 18th century; I can’t imagine it’s exactly the same. The auditorium itself is small, but it packs a wallop. I half wondered if they weren’t using amplification of some kind, but I don’t think so. Every instrument popped out, and some combination of stage and ceiling (I was up in the very top gallery) made some parts of the show surprisingly loud. There is a strip of the stage towards the front such that if a singer with a loud voice sings there at fullish volume, it’s enough to make you want them to dial it back a bit. The woman singing Marcellina had a big voice (she drowned out Susanna now and then during their duet in Act I) and at times she was a bit much for my eardrums. Same for the ensemble at the end of Act II. Isn’t that weird? I have rarely, if ever, been to an opera performance that was too loud for me, but this one was on the edge.

But the too-loud moments were few. The performance itself was visually rather drab (and some of the stage comedy, like Cherubino and the Count’s game of hide and seek in Act I, was rather clumsy) but musically unobjectionable-to-pretty-good. I found myself listening to the orchestra more than usual, because I was enjoying how it sounded. Not a Figaro to change your life – but I haven’t seen one of those in some time. And there was some fun with the supertitles in Act II. Someone rested an elbow on a button backstage or something, because during the part where Cherubino and the Countess are making googlly eyes at each other over the ribbon, and then the Count comes in, the supertitles started flashing by faster and faster until they’d finished the act before Cherubino was even in the closet. They came back in later. And whoever did the English translation was having a bit of an off day, to the extent that some of the little word plays and jokes failed to be funny, e.g. in Act IV when the Count is trying to entice “Susanna” away and she demurs that it’s dark, normally he says in English something like “we’re not going in there to read!” but here it was “We won’t read there!” which is not quite as effective.

That wasn’t really why I had come, either, of course. Listening to the orchestra during the overture, I couldn’t help but want to hear what, say, Clemenza sounds like in this space. It wouldn’t sound like it did way back in the eighteenth century, of course. Modern instruments and performance style for one thing, and modern ears and taste for another. But you kind of wonder, you know?

Le Nozze di Figaro / Metropolitan Opera 10-25-14

I have begun composing a mental list of items that should be banned from auditoriums. The list includes snores (if you have any in you, have a coffee before the performance), cell phones that the owner/operator is not in full control of vis-a-vis the off button, people with large heads who sit in front of me, and as of last night, large plastic bags. There was a woman sitting behind me last night who wanted something out of a plastic bag. She wanted it during Act III, during “dove sono.” It began as a series of covert little rustles during the first section of the aria. At first I thought someone was attempting to unwrap a sandwich, but it wasn’t a saran-wrap type rustle; it was one of those stiff plastic bags that produce something closer to a rattle than a rustle when one goes fishing around inside them. The rustler seemed to be under the impression that the combined forces of Amanda Majeski’s voice and the Met orchestra were sufficient to cover the sound, but in this she was mistaken. Majeski has a nice solid voice; the Met orchestra is no slouch in terms of sound production – but there is a reason we do not rustle around in plastic sacks during opera performances. The reason is that it MAKES NOISE. ANNOYING NOISE. The rustler continued well into the softer repeat section of the aria before the end and my god, I rarely turn around and glare at people during concerts but damned if I didn’t do it this time. I don’t know if the rustler saw me or not, but she stopped rustling. I am not normally the enforcer type. Normally I am the sit and stew silently and then complain about it later when assured of a sympathetic audience type. But I reached my limit with that plastic bag.


Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito / Von Otter, Varady, Johnson / English Baroque Soloists / Gardiner

20140323-111711.jpg I have to say, ever since I witnessed a performance of the Act I march of this opera that involved martial artists and yelling, I find I miss them – and their shouts of “huh!” at key moments – when they’re not around. However, I do realize that the likelihood of martial artists and yelling becoming standard performance practice for Mozart operas is small. (I could see it working in Die Zauberflöte, though.)


Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito / Lyric Opera of Chicago 3-14-14

This performance confirmed me in a few longstanding opinions and made me rethink a few others. The production, billed as “new to Chicago,” is by David McVicar and for me it slotted in neatly with my pre-existing constellation of opinions about this opera. The costumes – empire-style dresses for the women and late 18th-century (somewhere between 1790 and 1815?) suits for the men – evoked a sense of classical revival, which of course what this opera is in several different senses.


Music for Staring off into Space

I have a slightly terrifying work deadline on the first of March, which means that lately I am often in my office later into the evening than I should be. This is not always as productive as it seems. After a certain point, one stops writing and starts watching YouTube clips of La Clemenza di Tito. It is probably unnecessary to indicate which performance. Actually, it’s probably unnecessary even to post the video. We all know which one it is.

But in the interest of variety and also in the interest of not thinking about the Glorious Revolution for a few minutes, I decided to try something new. Here is Lucia Popp singing Vitellia’s last aria:

There’s a lovely lyric smoothness to this. Kind of just floats along. It’s gentle. Not necessarily what one is used to, but nice all the same.

La Clemenza di Tito / La Monnaie 11-7-13 (3)

(Previous section here.)

But how does it sound? Over all, not bad. Veronique Gens’s Vitellia is very tall very seductive. The way she handles the repetitions of “alletta” at the end of “deh, se piacer me vuoi” leave no doubt as to why Sesto finds her fascinating, and the series of silky-looking slip dresses she slinks around in don’t hurt either. Vitellia has flashes of anger – she tips over a chair at one point, but quickly dials it back when Sesto comes in – and the odd moment of vulnerability, but she’s neither supremely ambitious nor supremely nuts. The general emotional color of the performance is consistent with that domestic drama vibe I mentioned before.

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La Clemenza di Tito / La Monnaie 11-7-13 (2)

(Previous section here.)

A point about the overture, and the orchestral playing in general. The conductor is Ludovic Morlot, and he has things to say with this music. The overture felt measured, precise and clear, and there was a similar kind of mellowness or ease in the solo clarinet during “parto, parto.” At several points I was hearing things that I hadn’t heard or at least hadn’t focused on before, like the attacks in the lower string parts during the “vengo – aspettate – Sesto!” trio or the way the flute part follows Servilia in her first lines of the duet with Annio in Act I. Whoever was operating the basset horn during “non più di fiori” also got in the odd moment of pretty phrasing, although there was a bit of a “toot toot toot” quality to it at the beginning.

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La Clemenza di Tito / La Monnaie 11-7-13 (1)

I have heard La Clemenza di Tito so many times that listening to it feels like a variety of introspection – my reaction to any given performance is not simply a reaction to that performance, but also to all the other performances that I have heard. Also, it strikes me that either the advantage or the disadvantage to constant access to high-quality performances via DVD and the internet, like this one from Brussels, is that you rarely hear a truly bad rendition of anything. Sometimes one (by ‘one’ I mean ‘me’) picks nits about the interpretation, or takes issue with tempos, but I don’t actually think I’ve ever seen what I would call a truly sub-par performance of this opera.

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Un Moto di Gioia / Miah Persson

I was listening to Miah Persson’s wonderful recital from the Schwarzenberg Schubertiade the other day. The announcer introduced the first encore and explained that it was one of Susanna’s arias from Le Nozze di Figaro and because I am reasonably familiar with that opera I didn’t pay much attention to the explanation until the music started and I realized I didn’t recognize it. For a moment I wondered if I had sustained a blow to the head of which I was unaware; it also occurred to me that, say, there might be some bit of the opera that when arranged for piano sounds so completely different from the full version that it might take a minute to register what it was. But no. The aria is not “deh, vieni” or “venite inginocchiatevi” (which I somehow managed to categorize in my head as a sort of ensemble piece rather than an aria, because while it is going on there is usually so much to-ing and fro-ing with the Countess and Cherubino, even though Susanna is the only one singing) but rather a substitution Mozart wrote for the latter.

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Gluck – La Clemenza di Tito / Atelier Lyrique de Tourcoing 1987

You know how sometimes in life you feel a kind of obligation, out of thoroughness, to do a specific thing, and then as soon as you do it – sometimes even during – you discover that this is one of those things that need be done only once, if at all, and you will be quite content never to do it again?

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