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Claude Debussy

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


My Classical Notes

August 7

Ebene Quartet, Live in Paris

My Classical NotesWhile this post is about a string quartet, it is nothing like what you might expect. The Quatuor Ébène is proving that there is far more to the string quartet repertoire than we are used to hearing. ‘Avant-garde’ barely describes the chances these four young men take in embracing the entire field of music, from their award winning CD of the quartets of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré and another all Haydn CD to this collection of creative works that is titled “Fiction” These four musicians have studied extensively with the Ysaye Quartet in Paris as well as with the eminent Gábor Takács, Eberhard Feltz and György Kurtág. Their performing standards are high and they are highly regarded for their subtle phrasing and sweeping passion. But they don’t stop there. This recording, titled FICTION, has the quartet entering the repertoire of pop and jazz: they can be seen performing on YouTube where it is obvious that using contemporary sound techniques such as attaching mini-microphones to their instruments to give that ‘electric sound’. Here is a sample of the amazing music by the Ebene Quatuor:

Guardian

August 25

Jaakko Kuusisto: Glow CD review – quixotic and nimble

Meta4/Kuusisto, etc (BIS)Finnish conductor/composer/violinist Jaakko Kuusisto writes nimble, muscular music that wears its influences proudly (Debussy, Stravinsky), sometimes roams into misty or overheated places, but is mostly pretty spirited and playful. The titles are a bit of a giveaway on that last point: this survey of recent chamber music includes Play II and Play III, and the fact that Kuusisto is a violinist himself – like his brother Pekka – is everywhere in the quixotic, very physical-sounding string writing and the sparky dialogue between instruments. Play III collapses from hectic rhapsody into a lament for solo violin, with slow panting in the accompaniment; in Play II, the piano splutters and provokes while the strings hold out wan harmonics, then fiercely retaliate. It all sounds like music written to be delivered with vigour and fluidity and these performances from (among others) the Meta4 quartet, pianist Paavali Jumppanen and Kuusisto himself run with that. Continue reading...




Classical iconoclast

August 5

Nightscape with Dog : Knussen, Reinbert de Leeuw

In Prom 26, Oliver Knussen conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Reinbert de Leeuw and Brahms. Knussen was a teenager when he first met de Leeuw. They have much in common, both specialists in contemporary music, extraordinarily good interpreters of other composers' work, to the extent that they themselves have had to put writing on the backburner. Both have also headed the Aldeburgh Festival. But as we know, when Knussen writes, he writes so well that he creates remarkable work. So news of Reinbert de Leeuw's biggest work in many years was eagerly anticipated. Reinbert De Leeuw Der nächtliche Wanderer  is based on a poem by Friedrich Holderlin  It's very different to the poet's earlier, elegaic visions of idealized Classical Antiquity, but heroic nonetheless in its intensity and depth. It's worth quoting in its entirety since like most of his poetry the meaning and syntax are so intense that they are almost impossible to translate. Hu! der Kauz! wie er heult, Wie sein Furchtgeschrei krächt. Erwürgen - ha! du hungerst nach erwürgtem Aas, Du naher Würger, komme, komme. Sieh! er lauscht, schnaubend Tod - Ringsum schnarchet der Hauf, Des Mordes Hauf, er hörts, er hörts, im Traume hört' ers, Ich irre, Würger, schlafe, schlafe. ( Huuu, howls an owl, whose terrifying screams, strangle and squeeze the life from Ajax, the the hero in Greek mythology.  And nearby circles the Shrike, another nocturnal bird of prey.  Notice the syntax, umlaut u's one after another, as if the speaker is choking.  Yet "Komme, Komme" Maybe the poet sunconsciously wills it? See! He (Death) laughs, sneering, encircling the snorting heap (ie the body). As the heap is murdered it hears, it hears, in a dream hears. I go mad. Shrike, sleep, sleep.   It's not, I think a poem about insomnia or a grimmer Der Wanderer an den Mond,  but a gruesome mix of death and insanity. Again, notice the syntax and relentless repetitions. ) De Leeuw Der nächtliche Wanderer begins with the sound of a dog, barking in the distance : a warning.  From a background of low, rumbling sounds, a viola emerges, tentatively probing its way. As the chords stretch, they're illuminated by flashes of sparkling light.  A sense of circular movement yet also of stillness. Muffled drums beat and the large string section creates an elliptical swirl of sound.  Small quiet sounds, deliberately elusive, contrasting with the broad sweep in the strings and rising, angular figures in the brass, themselves interrupted by clicking sounds. In this dream, how the sounds are made is less material than what we might think they are.   Tension mounts. Bells call out, tolling with hollow hardness.  Whirling, rushing figures, then silence broken by dull thuds.  This quiet interlude is surprisingly beautiful, suggesting not just the moon but the infinite darkness beyond. This time, the viola emerges  playing a kind of melody which I found poetic and very moving.  This time the melody continues, its tessitura rising higher and higher til it suddenly breaks over, hovering in a sense beyond our ears.  Then, from the quietness, flashes emerge and oscillating figures. Do we hear distant trumpets playing in cacophony?  The BBC SO play with deftly defined detail so the different directions in the score aren't muffled into mush. Frantic tumult: a panic attack in music, yet deftly, carefully orchestrated and performed.   Cymbals crash: are we in the the throes of a death struggle ? Distorted moans from the strings.  More thoughtful contemplation, from which a disembodied man's voice emerges, whispering the text of the poem  The orchestra surges to life, sprightly dancing figures and animated swirls of sound, woodblocks and searching chords. This time, though, the mood is more confident. When the bells ring this time they sound present and bright, and the woodwinds play a passage that reminded me of the viola melody., especially when joined by the strings evoking the passage with rising tessitura.  Perhaps De Leeuw's wanderer has woken, wiser?  De Leeuw's  Der nächtliche Wanderer reminds me of Der Leiermann in Winterreise,which heralds change, but one which is elusively equivocal. Der nächtliche Wanderer is intruguing because it's so evocative and repays thoughtful listening. .  Preceding De Leeuw, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op.83 with Peter Serkin, another Knussen buddy. Another big beast, and nicely done. When Knussen first met de Leeuw, Knussen looked like the young Debussy. Now he resembles Brahms. But this Prom will remain in the memory for De Leeuw and his Der nächtliche Wanderer.



My Classical Notes

August 4

Menachem Pressler at Age 91

I am always in awe of musicians who make it to an advanced age. I am aware that Arturo Toscanini stopped conducting when his memory failed. Other amazing musicians ended their respective careers because performing involves hardship, aggravation, energy demands, and inevitable delays. And. then we have pianist Menachem Pressler, who is out with a new 4- DVD album. Menahem Pressler – The Pianist This amazing man entertains us with the following musical selections: Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor Chopin: Nocturne No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 1 Mazurka No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 1 Mazurka No. 7 in F minor, Op. 7 No. 3 Mazurka No. 13 in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4 Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. post. Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. post. Debussy: Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) Estampes (3) (Complete) String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 Dvorak: Slavonic Dance No. 2 in E minor, Op. 46 No. 2 Slavonic Dance No. 15 in C major, Op. 72 No. 7 Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 5 Khachaturian: Gayane Suite No. 1: Lozginka Kodály: Háry János Suite Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 Rondo in A minor, K511 Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K595 Rameau: Les Indes galantes: Suite Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960 Winterreise D911 (excerpts) Die Forelle, D550 Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ All performed by Menahem Pressler (piano) At 91 years old, Menahem Pressler is currently the oldest active concert pianist. He is also a founding member and pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio and has established himself among the world’s most distinguished and honored musicians, with a career that spans almost six decades. When the Beaux Arts Trio separated in 2008, Pressler resumed his solo career and still continues to dazzle audiences throughout the world, both as piano soloist and collaborating chamber musician. This 4-DVD edition contains concert performances with Berliner Philharmoniker, Orchestre de Paris and Quatuor Ébène. It also includes the award-winning portrait “Menahem Pressler – The Life I Love” Here is Mr. Pressler in recital:

Tribuna musical

August 3

“Roméo et Juliette”: the Berlioz masterpiece finally returns

1973, a terrible year: four presidents, turmoil. And the Colón reprograms after the well-founded resignation of Enzo Valenti Ferro (the Mayor had closed down arbitrarily the German season). Antonio Pini was the new Artistic Director, and I his assistant. Along with the conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Pedro Calderón, we programmed a rich season with eminent conductors and valid premières. In August Pini was summarily fired and the successors played havoc on the Phil´s programming. But in June and July we had Serge Baudo and Vaclav Smetácek. You may wonder, why this bit of history? Because it is relevant to the purpose of this article. Years before I was bowled over by the revelation of "Roméo et Juliette" by Hector Berlioz in the splendid interpretation on record by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. I knew that Baudo was a specialist on this composer (he ran the Lyons Berlioz festival), so I telexed him asking if he wanted to première the complete "Roméo" (only symphonic fragments had been played here); he accepted enthusiastically, and the première became the highlight of the symphonic year. I keep as a treasure my Eulenburg score : "En toute amitié" ("With all friedship"), Serge Baudo, 28.5.73. A particular homage to Jorge Fontenla, now in his eighties: always a noble server of music as pianist, composer and conductor, some months before the Baudo event Fontenla premièred "Roméo" in Argentina with the Cuyo University Symphony; and he had the bonhomie of lending the orchestral parts to the Phil for the Baudo preformances. We had to wait 43 years before an artist and a programmer decided that it was high time to let this generation hear live one of the great works of Romanticism. Facundo Agustín, an Argentine working in Switzerland, showed his mettle last year in Britten´s "War Requiem", so we knew that he was technically capable of the arduous commitment, for "Roméo" is very difficult; and Ciro Ciliberto, the National Symphony´s programmer, has proved his knowledge of the repertoire many times. A big thanks to both. "Roméo et Juliette" was called by the composer "dramatic symphony"; with words by Émile Deschamps derived from the Shakespeare tragedy, Berlioz conducted it at the Paris Conservatory November 24, 1839. The dedication is to Nicolò Paganini. It is, in words of its creator, "neither an opera in concert form nor a cantata, but a symphony with chorus" (and soloists). "The symphony has a general plan of four movements with a Prologue as a vocal introduction to the first" (John Burk). Berlioz, the quintessential Romantic, mixed life with creation and nowhere was it more evident than in "Roméo et Juliette", for he fell in love with actress Harriet Smithson playing Juliet and married her! A Shakespeare fan, he also wrote the overture "King Lear" and his opera "Béatrice et Bénédict" based on "Much Ado About Nothing". "Roméo et Juliette" is his Op.17 and lasts about 95 minutes. There´s nothing like it in the repertoire: Berlioz was a true visionary, with no antecedent and no followers. Many believe that giantism in symphonic music is a thing of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but they forget Berlioz: he asks for 250 performers, including three choirs, and his orchestration is ample and innovative. His aural imagination is limitless and the intensity of his expression has no rivals in French music. Each piece has titles that explain their content; thus, the Introduction at the very beginning depicts in fugato form the combats of Capulets and Montagus, the ensuing tumult and the intervention of the Prince. The soloists are a contralto that sings of the vows of the lovers, a scintillating Scherzetto for the tenor (Mercutio´s Queen Mab speech), and especially Friar Lawrence with his strong plea in the Finale for reconciliation. The choirs can be recitatives, light revelry in the distance, or powerful vocal battles. The jewels are purely symphonic: the Introduction, "Romeo alone- Sadness- the Capulets´ Ball", the "Love scene" (the composer´s favorite), the marvelous Queen Mab Scherzo with uncanny orchestral effects, and the huge contrasts of "Romeo at the Tomb of the Capulets". French orchestral music won´t produce scores of this quality until the arrival of Debussy and Ravel. Fortunately the work was presented twice at the Blue Whale, July 27 and 29; I went to the first date; it was a success with the packed audience. Agudín got a notable performannce out of a concentrated National Symphony, with close respect for every indication in the score; his temperament is contained and I missed the whitehot intensity of Munch, but it was clean and precise. Not only some soloists were fine (the oboist Andrés Spiller) but, e.g., it was a pleasure to hear the first violins play with such unanimity in perfect tune. The Coro Polifónico Nacional was this time prepared by an Argentine who lives in France, Ariel Alonso; he distributed the choirs at the back of the orchestra and at the laterals, and a small group was with the orchestra on the right side. The results were uneven but the best moments were satisfactory. Hernán Iturralde was a first-rate Friar Lawrence, sung with magisterial command and fine French. Alejandra Malvino did her "Strophes" musically and Ricardo González Dorrego negotiated his tricky Scherzetto with skill. A serious blot: no comments on the score in tha hand programme, and no supertitles! For Buenos Aires Herald

Claude Debussy
(1862 – 1918)

Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903. His music is noted for its sensory component and for not often forming around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music to 20th century modernist music. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as symbolism, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.



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