Tuesday, October 25, 2016
"Masterworks of French Modernism", the title of Daniele Gatti's concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Debussy La Mer, the key piece that opened new horizons, a magical work which, like the ocean keeps changing, revealing its depths in good performance. "God is in the detail" said Gatti in the interval interview, explaining how the arc of a performance is built upon many layers of detail. The term "Impressionism" is a tag that's stuck because it does describe the idea of creating a whole made up of tiny cells of pure colour. Impressionist paintings shocked viewers because they seemed to shine from within, because each stroke of paint seemed to glow with inner light. Now, perhaps The Shock of The New has worn off with millions of reproductions on coffee mugs, t shirts and so on. But in music, every good performance is new, an original recreation in its own right. Daniele Gatti is too good to do routine, and with an orchestra as good as the Berliner Philharmoniker, there was no way this performance would fail. There are so many brilliant La Mers around that we've all heard better, but also even more that are infinitely worse, and that's something to be glad about in a world where mediocrity is increasingly prized over excellence. Not a "coffee mug" performance by any means, even if the real revelations on this occasion came in Honegger and Dutilleux. Arthur Honegger's Symphony no 3 and Henri Dutilleux Métaboles have both been part of the Berlin Philharmonic's repertoire for some years. Simon Rattle conducted Métaboles as recently as 2013, with more or less the same musicians. Although much of Dutilleux's best work lies in miniatures and chamber pieces, Métaboles is scored for large orchestra. It flows over five movements each wiuth a distinctive personality : not variations but a series of developments, characterized by meticulous detail - a kind of refined embroidery. To borrow metaphors from painting, Pointillism, as opposed to Impressionism. Gatti's approach is softer grained than Rattle's, which may be more authentic but which might appeal to the already converted than to those coming new to the composer. There is a powerful Dutilleux lobby, so influential that it could demand chapters on Dutilleux in books about Messiaen. A bit petty, since both composers are very different indeed, and there's no need to play silly status games. Better to absorb the music on its own terms. A few years ago, I attended a Dutilleux recital at the Wigmore Hall (read more here). The composer, then aged 92, was present, enjoying himself hugely because Jan Pascal Tortelier's father was a close personal friend. Afterwards, my friend and I had a long dinner, leaving close to midnight. And who should we see but Henri Dutilleux, walking back to his hotel around the block. We waved. He beamed. Herbert Karajan conducted Honegger's Symphony no 3 (Symphonie Liturgique) with the Berliners in 1969, so long ago that it's pointless to compare. Whoever uploaded the performance to YT knew what they were doing by illustrating it with a drawing by George Rouault. Connections to painting again. No pretty pointillism for Rouault : his work is marked by ferocious dark outlines, defining the images within . The colours in his famous series of paintings of Christ seem to glow like stained glass even though they are oppressed by savage framework, which is utterly appropriate. Written in the winter of 1945/6, Honegger's piece deals explicitly with the horrors of war, and the challenges of a new era. The Dies Irae with its ferocious outcries, expresses anguish. Rouault's suffering Christ, depicted in sound. Honegger, being Swiss was a neutral in occupied France, but no less involved with what was going on around him. The second movement, De profundis clamavi, is a slow, but not peaceful meditation. What must we do that to counter violence and hate ? Slower, more amorphous figures, long lines that seem to float on a stream of mysterious detail. Gatti's unhurried attentiveness works well: we cannot afford to gloss over these complexities. This is the dark soul of the whole symphony. The movement concludes with intense outbursts from the brass, angular shapes against the horizontal keening in the strings. The last movement, Dona Nobis Pacem, doesn't, however, "grant us peace". Instead, it moves in the form of a solemn procession, lit with violent alarums from brass. One could visualize a cortege marching at night, the darkness broken by malevolent flames, whipped by turbulent winds. Obvious connections with Honegger's masterpiece Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher written in 1938, when Honegger was well aware of the threat posed by Hitler. Joan of Arc stands up to invaders, but is martyred. As the flames rise round her, though, she sees visions of saints and angels, and the voices who lead her return at last, taking her up to heaven. Peace, of a sort, is achieved but only through confronting evil and suffering : no avoidance, no prettying up. Honegger's Symphony no 3 isn't just a masterwork of modernism but a powerful document of how music can inspire the mind and soul. Please read my other work on Honegger and especially on Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher by following the links below and on the right.
You find specialists even in the standard repertoire, but you also have generalists who are at home in an ample display of different schools. However, you do need specialisation if your line of work is Medieval or Renaissance Music, or the Baroque. And that applies naturally to contemporary music, for its language isn´t of easy access, as it used to be in another periods. Listeners understood readily Bach or Mozart, they don´t Boulez or Berio. The CETC (the Colón Center for Experimentation) annually does a small cycle called Integrals, focussed on one composer´s production for an instrument, and usually there are three concerts within a small lapse. This year we were offered Sciarrino´s creations for flute, played by Matteo Cesari; Tristan Murail´s piano music, by Taka Kigawa; and veering from the term Integrals, solo violin scores by American and exiled composers that have lived in the USA, played by Miranda Cuckson. Frankly I am not enthusiastic about Sciarrino, so I skipped it; but I was sorry to miss the Murail Integral due to a family reunion. However, I heard Kigawa in earlier seasons and knew that he is an exceptional artist, so I was happy that he added a concert out of the Integrals series. It was presented at the Colón´s Salón Dorado for free with a packed audience and it proved memorable. Kigawa is Japanese, in his early forties, slim, energetic and wonderfully controlled. He lives in New York, where he obtained a Master at the Juilliard School. His short programme started with two Japanese composers.Toru Takemitsu was well known by his film music; "Les yeux clos" ("The closed eyes") lasts seven minutes; the music is subtle and sensitive, ideal for Kigawa´s touch and total command. Karen Tanaka (b.1961) wrote "Crystalline", a good title for a five-minute piece that opts for diaphanous, atmospheric writing. In a way, these composers reflect the refined, nature-loving side of Japan, and seem influenced by the Occidental musician that many believe to be the father of Twentieth-Century innovation, Claude Debussy. So it was a marvelous idea that Kigawa completed the concert with the French creator´s seminal First Book of Preludes (1910). Although they are enormously important, they are rarely done integrally. Their variety is astonishing, going from the total serenity of Nº 1, "Danseuses de Delphes", to the turbulence of Nº 7, "Ce qu´a vu le vent d´Ouest" ("What the western wind saw"), to the jazzy humor of Nº 12, "Minstrels", all the time creating new ways to harmonize and to play the piano. Kigawa showed himself a phenomenal virtuoso, both in the whole First Book and in the encore, the dazzling Nº 12, "Feux d´artifice" ("Fireworks"), of the Second Book of Preludes. Following his playing with a score, the perfection of hues, articulations and rhythms was amazing. One small cavil: his fortissimi sounded too Bartokian for Debussy. Miranda Cuckson, also a Juilliard School Doctor in Music, faced a 75-minute recital of solo violin music, all of it very difficult, with absolute technical command and unflagging intensity. Her concert was at the CETC and she had a spare audience, though enthusiastic. She also had bad luck: they were paving Libertad and the sound penetrated the venue´s walls; but why did we also hear walking people close by? She was unfazed and completely concentrated in her playing, with a flexible body trained to such efforts. Stefan Wolpe (1902-72) was a Berliner who emigrated to the USA due to Nazi threats. His 1964 "Piece in two parts" (one slow, one fast) lasted 15 minutes, contrasting twelve-tone melodies (yes, they exist!) with pizzicato interruptions. Elliott Carter perhaps was the longest-lived composer (1908-2012); the "Four lauds" were written over a lengthy span (1984-20 11) and their 18 minutes give us widely contrasting music of strong dissonance but also a certain lyricism in the "Gratitude for Goffredo Petrassi", the admirable Italian composer. Mario Davidovsky, b. 1934, is Argentine and has lived for decades in the USA, working in the field of electroacoustic music and its relationship to instruments. A typical and valid example is the "Synchronism Nº9", 1988, where the violin blends easily with the electronic sounds. The final work is quite a challenge, a 33-minute Sonata (1953) by Roger Sessions (1896-1985), a dense serial work in four movements well crafted though sometimes arid. Cuckson played it with powerful conviction. For Buenos Aires Herald
“Who was Takemitsu? He was a largely self-taught composer whose career followed a vague trajectory from the avant garde of the 1960s to a French period of ethereally moody music influenced by Debussy and Messiaen, winding up in a more Romantic, even nostalgic, style. But that’s leaving out one of his key innovations, combining traditional Japanese music with Western music. It is leaving out his love for pop music. (His Beatles arrangements for solo guitar have never been bettered.) It is leaving out his more than 90 film scores.”
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Yamada (Pentatone)The playing on this disc from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is simply superb: alert, precise strings, scampering woodwind and sparkling brass bring real energy to Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane ballet suite which comes surging through the speakers in a tumultuous reading from Kazuki Yamada. Profound contrast is offered in Debussy’s pellucid piano duet Six épigraphes antiques, delicately orchestrated by the Suisse Romande’s founder conductor Ernest Ansermet, before the energy returns in Poulenc’s cheeky, irreverent dance suite from Les Biches. Highly recommended. Continue reading...
Katherine Broderick (soprano), James Baillieu (piano), Heath Quartet, Adam Walker (flute), Tim Lowe (cello) (Champs Hill)Capable of big Wagnerian roles (she has sung Brünnhilde) as well as Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, Katherine Broderick here turns her attention to intimate French songs with string quartet, flute or cello as well as piano. Her powers of expression, so vivid and telling on stage, communicate well in this rewarding recital disc of Gaubert, Berlioz, Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Chausson and Caplet. Ravel’s Chansons madécasses – songs of Madagascan life, with flute, cello and piano, burst with exotic drama, and contrast beautifully with the strange inventions of his animal poem settings, Histoires naturelles. Broderick turns every song into a miniature drama, delivered with elegance of line, sensuality and sharp wit, well supported by her excellent colleagues. Continue reading...
Barbican, London A fascinating stage collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe revived the work of a tarnished French composer, whose dramatic score deserves comparison with Debussy and RavelAs an offering for Shakespeare 400, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo joined forces with actors from Shakespeare’s Globe to perform an abridgement of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Iqbal Khan, with the incidental music Florent Schmitt composed for the 1920 premiere of André Gide’s translation of the play.Schmitt is a difficult figure, his reputation tarnished by his antisemitism in the 1930s and his collaborationist stance during the second world war. But in the 1920s, he was much admired, and his score, from which two orchestral suites alone survive, is a heady effort, exotically orchestrated, reminiscent on occasion of Debussy, Ravel and Strauss. Continue reading...
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.
Great composers of classical music