Friday, April 28, 2017
‘Volodos plays Brahms’ is the title of a recent CD by Arcadi Volodos in which we hear the following selections: Brahms: Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op. 76 No. 1 Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76 No. 2 Intermezzo in A flat, Op. 76 No. 3 Intermezzo in B flat major, Op. 76 No. 4 Intermezzi (3), Op. 117 Klavierstücke (6), Op. 118 All performed by Arcadi Volodos (piano) Volodos has played the Brahms solo pieces over the past years in places all over the world and received highest critical acclaim for his interpretation. The Brahms solo works are perfect to show Volodos unique ability to create a special and magic sound, a sound “which lifts us, the listener, into the air and which makes us believe that the world is floating” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Recorded in the famous Teldex Studios Berlin in three sessions (2015 – 2017) on a great Steinway Grand Piano specially tuned by Michel Brandjes, one of the best tuners in the world. There is no editing in this recording. Volodos played every piece over and over again to develop his idea of structure and sound and chose the best version of each piece after the end of the recording. Here is a beautiful performance of the Intermezzo Op. 117, number 2:
In a Telegraph article about the 2017 BBC Proms the concert series' director David Pickard raises hopes for an possible important change in direction. Discussing the move away from Proms themed to TV shows, Pickard observes that "what we need to be thinking of is nurturing a long-term audience for classical music". This statement may be blindingly obvious, but it is important for two reasons. First, it is a welcome sign that somebody at the BBC has finally realised what many of us have known for years, that dumbing down classical music does not build a long-term audience. The second reason why his observation is important is because it is a much-needed admission that quality and not quantity of audience is what matters. In the past the spin-masters at the BBC have been eager to point out the numbers of first-time concertgoers at the Proms. For instance the number of 33,000 first-time concertgoers was trumpeted for the 2014 Proms season; but drilling down below that headline figure painted a very different picture. From data in the public domain, we know that the Proms audience expressed as a percentage of venue capacity dropped from 93% in the 2013 season to 88% in 2014. This means that the total attendance fell by 17,000, despite 33,000 Proms neophytes swelling the numbers. So in 2014 the Proms gained 33,000 first time ticket purchasers, but lost 50,000 of its existing audience, resulting in a net loss of 17,000 concertgoers. What matters is the net change in audience size - newcomers less non-returners; because that determines the size of the long-term audience. The figures I have cited show that despite what superficially looks like an impressive number of first-time attendees wooed by events like TV-themed Proms, the total audience size declined. That decline was due to a mix of two factors: one was that many first-time concertgoers attracted by untypical concert fare did not return, the second was the vitally important but ignored point that the loyal core audience is also shrinking. David Pickard has at least realised that the new marginal audience is not coming back. But he and a lot of other people involved in concert planning also need to take on board that the core audience - which includes me - is becoming very reluctant to brave the contemporary concert ambiance; an ambiance that is being created largely by misguided efforts to attract the new marginal audience. In a 2015 piece titled 'What price classical music's new audience?' I reported here how for me a concert in France was marred by audience members eating a picnic, applauding during (not between) Mahler's settings of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and, of course, using their mobile phones. Elsewhere I lamented how a performance at the Fez Sufi Culture Festival was ruined by the continuous use of camera-phones, and this weekend my wife email from Toronto lamenting how an Indian music recital was marred by a concertgoer texting and checking emails and Facebook. The inflammatory subject of applause between movements makes an interesting case study. We are told that classical music must drop its silly conventions, and we are also told that silence between movements is one of those dispensable silly conventions. There is some historical justification for this argument, as going back many years it was, apparently, customary, for an audience to express its appreciation of particularly meritorious playing at the end of a movement. But in the age of the new marginal audience, applause between movements has in a remarkably short time become another silly convention. It is no longer an expression of praise for artistic excellence, because, dare I say it, many of those applauding between movements do not yet have the experience to recognise artistic excellence. Applause between movements is now something that the audience does, simply because the new silly convention says they should do it. Just one example was the apologetic dribbles of applause - is this where we should applaud? - between the movements of Tasmin Little's performance of Walton's Violin Concerto in Hull on BBC Radio 3 last week. (I emphasise that my criticism is of the applause habit and not Tasmin's artistic excellence!) The silly convention of dribbles of applause between movements started at the Proms but is now a global problem: we were subjected to it during a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in Rabat, Morocco recently. If David Pickard wants to know why a core audience member like me has only attended one Prom in recent years - Alwyn and RVW in 2014 - and will not be buying any tickets for the 2017 season, I suggest he listens to the archive recording seen in my header graphic, which is a transfer of BBC broadcasts of two concerts. (I will refrain from using the BBC Radio 3 presenter's ghastly terminology of 'live concerts' as I have never yet attended a concert where the musicians on the platform are dead). Brahms' Third Symphony was recorded at a Prom in 1977 and Elgar's First at a 1976 Prom. On the transfers the hall ambiance has been left between the movements. Not only are there no dribbles of inter-movement applause, there is also none of the tubercular between-movement coughing that punctuates today's performances despite greatly improved health standards. Moreover the music itself is heard in rapturous silence, again without the intrusive noises of today's audiences. And if anybody tries to dismiss the background silence in those two concerts as lucky flukes, I refer them to other BBC concert recordings from the past, all of which lack audience participation; for example another Elgar 1, this time Sir John Barbirolli's painfully slow valedictory 1970 performance in the unforgiving acoustic of St Nicholas' Chapel, King's Lynn, and Bruno Maderna's Mahler Nine recorded in the Festival Hall in 1971. It is quality and not size of audience that is important to nurturing a long-term audience for classical music. David Pickard's candid views suggest that there is some light at the end of the dumbed-down corridor. Let's hope that it is not a train full of audience-chasing BBC senior executives coming the other way. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
An unusual request from our string quartet diarist, Anthea Kreston: I need your help. Is anyone good at musical detective work? I am putting out a crowdsourcing request. I read in the Steinhardt book, “Indivisible by Four” that Schumann conceived, at one point, of his three quartets as something that could be played in a row, that they could connect. Steinhardt also says that Schumann actually wrote bridge music to be played between the works, so they could be played without pause, and that he later destroyed this music. I nearly flipped out. We have been playing the Schumann 3 for many months now, and Schumann 2 for the past month. This week we started on Schumann 1. For the first time, last week, we put 2 Schumanns together in one program, and for me, there was magical almost-symmetry, a way in which they informed one another – how some of his thoughts, which can often feel incomplete or inconclusive, had a corresponding answer in the other quartet. These three quartets were written between June 4 and 22, 1842 – a span of less than three weeks, after a period in which he was unable to write because of a depressive episode. How could they not be conceived of as a whole – considering the short time in which they were composed? They must belong to one another – overlaying pieces of the same puzzle, each piece only complete when seen through the lenses of the others. He presented them as a birthday present to Clara – it is amazing to think of them so young – she turned 23 in September of 1842. Just because quartets up until this time had been packaged in neat, easy-to-digest 35-50 minute portions, doesn’t mean that a 2 hour piece of music (including connecting music) couldn’t be thought of, especially by someone as unique as Schumann. Wouldn’t it be magical to hear what these three works would sound like, all together, and where is that missing music? Is there a sketch, mention in a letter – something from Clara, Robert or even Johannes – more information out there? If anything exists, can it be reconstructed? Or a new commission(s?) be made for bridge music? If it were any other composer (the three Brahms quartets, for example), I don’t think I would be so keen – so certain that this could be pure magic. But – the combination of lightness and fantasy, interchanged with heavy, funny German dances and deep, throbbing and sweeping slow movements – these pieces read like novels. And together – a triptych. It could be transformative. When I read about this in Arnold Steinhardt’s book, I was sitting on a plane, heading to London. I was floored. As a student at Curtis, I worked with Mr. Steinhardt, but not enough or probably well enough for him to remember who I was, or to keep in contact. How to reach him – I needed more information. So – I Messengered Ida Kavafian, my “Violin Mom” – a teacher who embodied, for me, the perfect mix of inspiration, technical advice, and life lessons. And, of course, a deep dedication to all of her students – warmth and endless humor and encouragement. To my delight, within the next 2 hours, these messages, below. The first one sent backstage from Wigmore – the final one backstage after the concert. “Ida! I just read something from Steinhardt in “The Art of Quartet Playing” where he talks about a destroyed copy of Schumann – bridge music between the quartets (so they could be played all together). Do you know anything about this? If not, do you see Mr. Steinhardt around and can you ask? I am obsessed.” “HAHAHAHAHA!!! I’m sitting with him in auditions at Curtis. More later.” “Wow! You shouldn’t be texting! Pay attention to those Paganini caprices!” “Hahaha – intermission Wigmore!” “So at first he’s made this cute comment that “well, she knows just about as much as I know about it”. But then he described how in the romantic era often people would improvise little tiny pieces/links between pieces. Apparently Josef Hoffman did that when he played recitals at Curtis and probably elsewhere. Apparently Schumann wrote some of these links between the first and second and then the second and third quartets but then he thought better of it. Arnold doesn’t know if they still exist. How was your concert? I used to love playing at Wigmore!!!!” “Quartet is fun! I am always wanting to play on the g string, and they complain a little about it, but other than that all is well! Please tell Mr. Steinhardt thank-you – I will try to keep researching and let you know if I find anything. My biggest hugs to my favorite teacher“ “Hugs and kisses right back! And apologies for telling you to play on the G string too much…” Followed by a emoji of a bunny and hamster high-fiving with 8th notes floating around So – Slipped Disc readers – if you are so inclined, can you help me? There must be some evidence somewhere – a mention of a house concert, letter, talk from musicians, a diary, sketch, something in a library or collection. I have never asked for your help before, but now is the time! Together we could discover something incredible. You can email me at Geigeberlin@yahoo.com .
The second and third concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s subscription series at the Colón coincided in two factors: maestros that had never conducted the Phil and innovative programming. One is old, Finnish, talented and excentric; the other is middle-aged, Italian, very effective and enthusiastic. Leif Segerstam has been here before, Claudio Vandelli made his debut, and both had soloists from the orchestra in premières. Segerstam has changed enormously since his debut here in 1973 conducting Mozart´s "Le Nozze di Figaro". Then he was slim, 32 and almost at the start of his brilliant career; decades passed until he visited us at the helm of the Helsinki Philharmonic some years ago in programmes that stressed Sibelius and one of the conductor´s myriad symphonies. He was transformed into a Nordic overweight patriarch with a huge beard, but his command and musical sensitivity were quite evident. I also had the good luck of appreciating him as a Wagnerian in Vienna (February 2009) with a splendid "Lohengrin". Now in his late seventies, he has serious locomotion trouble and barely manages to climb the two steps to the podium, but his arms respond well and his capacity remains. He started and ended with Sibelius: the iconic "Finlandia" in a rousing performance, and the very welcome second time at the Phil for the Third Symphony, premièred by Pedro Calderón in 1973. Anecdote: at the time the programming was in the joint hands of Calderón (then Principal Conductor) and myself, and curiously he wanted to do Third symphonies and so did I; so he exhumed Mahler´s Third after forty years of its Fitelberg première and I programmed the première of Dvorák´s Third (Smetácek), played complete (not with cuts as happened in Diemecke´s integral of Dvorák symphonies). The Sibelius Third also had a performance (rather good) at the Facultad de Derecho by the Lanús Symphony three years ago and I was there, attracted by the chance to hear it live, for this is a neglected symphony in BA (as is the Sixth) and it doesn´t merit such negligence. Of course the first two are longer and richer but there is much beauty in the Third within its smaller scale. It was finished in 1907 and the composer´s stamp is everywhere, particularly in the attractive melodies of the first movement and the growing tension and density of the final minutes. It had a detailed and impressive reading. The first of two premières was an interesting arrangement by Luciano Berio of Brahms´ Sonata Op.120 Nº1 for clarinet and piano, converting it into a Concerto for clarinet and orchestra. Berio added apposite small introductions to the first and second movements. This is nocturnal, intimate, late Brahms composed in 1894; Berio´s orchestration is at times too loud (the music needs more matte colors, less trumpets) but considering the dearth of clarinet concertos, it is a useful addition to that repertoire. It was premièred in 1986 as a commission of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its first desk Michele Zukovsky. Probably the execution by Mariano Rey, his counterpart at our Phil, was fully as good, for he is a virtuoso of international standing. I had the curious experience of following the music with the original Brahms score, and I found the interpretation (both soloistic and orchestral) cogent with the marked speeds and articulations. As an encore Rey offered an expressive clarinet adaptation of Piazzolla´s slow, melodic "Oblivion". Can you imagine a composer-conductor presenting his Symphony Nº 302? Surely a Guinness record, that´s what Segerstam did in this work dedicated to the Colón and called "A fundamental and universal musical conscience". Carlos Singer says in his programme notes (and I agree): "he created a gigantic meta-universe irresistible and labyrinthic, cosmic and chaotic". He uses what he calls "free pulsation", "leaving rhythmic decisions to the players". He certainly is "nonconformist, excentric and non-repeatable". He didn´t conduct his 24-minute symphony, of very full orchestration; instead, some players got up and led a particular section from time to time; I suppose rehearsals must have been fascinating to watch, and apparently the Phil coped well. I found it intense, dissonant though tonal-based, and strange; I was left imagining the workings of Segerstam´s psyche and comparing it to other excentric and prolific symphonists such as Havergal Brian and Alan Hovhaness, both quite unknown here. It would be intriguing to have a chance to compare them live. Back to relative normalcy in the following concert. The announced conductor was Alexander Vedernikov, but he fell ill and was replaced by Claudio Vandelli. What impressed me was that the programme was unchanged although it was made up of rarely played Russian music and a première. Reading his biography I understood it: he has been invited for the last ten years by the Moscow State Symphony New Russia and is the second conductor of the Russian Youth Symphony, so he is well versed in the Russian repertoire, although he has plenty of activity elsewhere (he has conducted orchestras of great caliber). He started with an umistakeably Tchaikovskian score, the fantasy overture "Hamlet" (one of his three Shakespearian tone poems, for that´s what they are: the others being "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Tempest"). Written when he was occupied by his Fifth Symphony in 1888, all the hallmarks of his style are there in this unfairly ignored creation: the dark, ominous textures; the melodies charged with sorrow; the vigorous climaxes; the sense of drama. I enjoyed Vandelli´s sanguine interpretation, played by a committed Phil. Johann Baptist Vanhal (Bohemian) had a rather long life (1739-1813) and was staggeringly prolific: 73 symphonies, about 30 concertos, around a hundred string quartets, and 95 sacred works. Very popular and well considered in his own time, but quite forgotten as the Nineteenth Century advanced, the vinyl catalogue after WWII and later the CD rush provoked a thirst for the expansion of the repertoire beyond the greatest names, and thus slowly Vanhal was explored at least partially. There are few concerts for the bass, and so the two by Vanhal, purely classicist, began to be played again. The cumbersome instrument is habitually used in orchestras as the basis for rich string textures, but rarely gets solos to play, let alone concertos. So Osvaldo Dragún, first desk of our Phil, welcomed the chance of premièring Vanhal´s Concerto in D major, a pleasant twenty minutes that allowed the player to show the melodic and the virtuosic aspects of the bass. Dragún also played some of Bottesini´s Variations on the Carnival of Venice tune. A good player of charismatic appearance, he got strong applause. And Vandelli accompanied well. Now to another excentric composer: Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). He started as a Late Romantic but gradually he went on to an audacious mystical avantgardism. His three symphonies are steps in that sense, crowned by his two great poems: "of ecstacy" and "of fire" ("Prometheus"). The Second Symphony (1901) was marvelously done here by Svetlanov and the USSR State Symphony, decades ago. In five movements (the first two and the last two joined), the music is exalted, turbulent and ample (48 minutes). Vandelli led with enthusiasm and command, getting a big sound out of an attentive Phil.For Buenos Aires Herald
From Erika Funkauser’s poem, in The Atlantic: The world’s at war and he breaks into Brahms tonight—an intermezzo one might hum to lull a child or coax to life numb nerves after a round of deafening bombs… … Read the full poem here. And send a copy to your elected representative.
I want to tell you about a new recording that I came across today: Brahms: String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67 Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 Performed by James Campbell (clarinet), with the New Zealand String Quartet. Johannes Brahms wrote his String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67 in 1876 and its largely cheerful qualities culminate in a theme and variations finale of exceptional imagination and mastery of form. Brahms’ last chamber music was inspired by a great exponent of the clarinet, Richard Mühlfeld, for whom he wrote four works including the Clarinet Quintet. This dazzling masterpiece is notable not only for its underlying elegiac mood, but also for its thematic interrelation and the wide expressive range of the solo instrument. Here is the beautiful Clarinet Quintet:
Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he also worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.
Great composers of classical music