Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Diana Damrau Sings Songs by Franz Liszt (short documentary)

Today (Tuesday July 31) marks the passing of Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher Franz Liszt (b. Oct. 22 1811 - July 31 1886)  The epitome of Romanticism, Liszt's tone poems and piano works were ahead of their time. His piano transcriptions are phenomenally lovely, and fiendishly difficult technically speaking. Also of great importance are the substantial collections of songs, many have found their way to recital stages and recordings.  To remember Liszt, here is a documentary from Virgin Classics of German soprano Diana Damrau singing and recording Liszt songs. The pianist I believe is Helmut Deutsch. I was so looking forward to hearing Damrau as the three heroines in Hoffmann this summer in Munich, but alas she withdrew due to pregnancy. Replacing her were three quite wonderful sopranos, but I still would have loved to have heard the same singer as Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. Here is Damrau singing and talking about Liszt songs. Unfortunately there is no English subtitles, but the ever-expressive Damrau (almost) makes subtitles unnecessary.  Lest you think her waving of arms and hands are merely for melodramatic effect - or for the benefit of the camera, singers often do that in a recording studio because their hand gestures help them achieve certain vocal and interpretive effects. 

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Monteux Conducts Stravinsky

Watch video

This is a valuable piece of video for anyone interested in knowing how Stravinsky's Petrouchka should be played. Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) conducted the first performance in 1910 and here he is years later leading the Boston Symphony. Of course, there are audio recordings of the composer conducting this music but Monteux was a far better conductor. Any young conductor thinking of programming this music should carefully study the score and the Monteux video. Monteux doesn't appear to be doing much but he presides over everything with such authority the orchestra knows exactly what he wants and equally important, each player feels inspired to get of his or her very best.  

Paul E. Robinson

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Segovia Plays Villa Lobos

For me the artistry of Andres Segovia has always been a special pleasure. He is long gone but his work lives on in recordings and in several videos. Here he is late in his career playing a Prelude by Villa Lobos. The technique is not what it once was but the tone and the phrasing remain something to treasure. Although he played an instrument that lacked the great works written for violin, cello and piano Segovia transcribed many works and inspired contemporary composers to write for his instrument. As a performer, he was part of that generation that included Casals, Kreisler and Hofmann. They all played with an interpretative freedom that passed out of fashion. But such artists often came closer to the intention of the composer than more literal performers.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This week marks the passing of two musical giants - the great composer Robert Schumann on July 29 in 1856, and closer to our time, the great German baritone Hermann Prey on July 22 1998. What better way to remember them than with Prey singing one of Schumann's most inspired compositions, Widmung Op. 25 No. 1? Schumann composed this song as a dedication to his bride, Clara Wieck. Set to a poem by Friedrich Ruckert, the text has an ecstatic quality so well captured in Schumann's rising melodic line. This is a perfect marriage between text and music. Here is the English translation:

You my soul, you my heart,
you my bliss, o you my pain,
you the world in which I live;
you my heaven, in which I float,
o you my grave, into which
I eternally cast my grief.
You are rest, you are peace,
you are bestowed upon me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
your gaze transfigures me;
you raise me lovingly above myself,
my good spirit, my better self!

Franz Liszt wrote a piano transcription of this song and it quickly became a popular encore piece for piano recitals. Here it is, exquisitely played by French

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Francescatti Plays Sarasate

Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) was one of the great violinists of the Twentieth Century. He was born in France and became the foremost exponent of the French violin repertoire. He made many recordings of music by Franck, Ravel, Faure and Debussy with his compatriot Robert Casadesus and they remain nearly definitive. He also became internationally renowned through his recordings for Columbia Records. Many of these Columbia recordings have recently been remastered and reissued by Music and Arts (CD-1260). Other performances of music by Bach and Paganini have been reissued by Doremi (DHR-7780).

Francescatti had a phenomenal technique. He also had a distinctive somewhat nasal tone characteristic of many French violinists. In this 1959 video Francescatti plays Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) in a performance originally broadcast on television.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Coup for Yannick

In another coup for Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Deutsche Grammophon announced that it had signed the Canadian conductor to a long-term contract. Among the projects already in the works is a cycle of seven Mozart operas. The first of them, Don Giovanni, has already been recorded and will be released in September. The all-star cast includes Rolando Villazon and Diana Damrau. Our video this week is the DG trailer for this recording.

The DG contract will feature Yannick and the Rotterdam Philharmonic among other orchestras. Their first DG recording together will be Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. No word yet on whether the Philadelphia Orchestra will be included in DG's plans for Yannick but you can bet that serious discussions are underway.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker in Schonberg's Verklarte Nacht

Last Friday (July 13) marked the passing of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (Sept. 13 1874 - July 13 1951).  A major exponent of the so-called Second Viennese School, Schoenberg is famous for his 12-tone compositions.  His early works however bear a strongly Late Romantic flavour with its chromaticism and expanded tonalities. The best examples include his "secular cantata" Gurrelieder, and his symphonic tone poem Verklarte Nacht. Here is my very favourite, full orchestral version of Verklarte Nacht, played by the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Herbert von Karajan.  I still remember being totally enthralled hearing the LP for the first time when it came out in the early 1970's, the almost unbearably beautiful playing by the Berlin forces - the strings were to die for!  It remains my desert island disc after almost forty years.

Joseph K. So

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Paavo Jarvi in Japan

It was announced this week that Paavo Jarvi will become the new principal conductor of Japan's NHK Symphony Orchestra. The NHK has long been considered Japan's leading orchestra and this is a prestigious appointment. Jarvi recently stepped down from his post in Cincinnati but continues to head the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and the Orchestre de Paris. In this video he conducts the last movement from Schumann's Symphony No. 3 "Rhenish" with the NHK orchestra. While the players do not use period instruments the conductor has clearly encouraged them to give an historically informed performance. Tempi are brisk, vibrato is limited and horns, trumpets and timpani come through with rustic flair.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Emerson String Quartet Plays Mozart

The Emerson String Quartet has recorded exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon for many years. But for whatever reason, they decided to make a change. They have recently started a new association with Sony. One of the first projects for Sony is a set of the Mozart Prussian Quartets. In this video members of the Emerson talk about the character of the music. But make no mistake about it. Whatever the label the Emerson String Quartet remains incomparable.

Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Bess, You Is My Woman Now" Love Duet from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

July 11 marks the passing of the great George Gershwin (Sept 26 1898 - July 11 1937) seventy-five years ago.  The quintessential American composer, Gershwin's creative genius spans both popular and classical fields. His compositions capture the American spirit wonderfully well, and his abundant melodic inspiration and refreshingly individual harmonic idiom are always a pleasure. Among his best known classical compositions are Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and the opera Porgy and Bess, this last work a staple in many opera houses around the world, and rightfully so.  To remember Gershwin, here is the sublime duet, "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from a film based on the 1986-7 Glyndebourne Festival Trevor Nunn production conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Willard White (Porgy - and now a famous Wotan!) and Cynthia Haymon (Bess) are both fabulous here.

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra

One of the greatest conductor and orchestra combinations of our time is Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Abbado has been forced to severely limit his conducting appearances in recent years due to medical problems but his authority on the podium just continues to grow. He has not held a permanent music director position since he resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic but he makes a few appearances every year with orchestras whose members gather just to work with him. The largest is the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. It includes many members of the Berlin Philharmonic but also soloists of the stature of cellist Natalia Gutman and clarinettist Sabine Meyer and members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It is a superb orchestra. Again this summer they will gather at the Lucerne Festival for several concerts with Abbado. In this 2008 video they perform excerpts from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

James Campbell and Glenn Gould Play Debussy

On July 18 the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ontario begins its new season. The festival was founded in 1979 by Anton Kuerti and since 1985 it has been under the artistic direction of James Campbell. During the winter months Jim is a Professor of clarinet at Indiana University but in the summer he gets to give free rein to his imagination. Apart from the beautiful location and its wonderful concert hall the festival regularly presents some of the finest concerts available anywhere. There is lots of chamber music but plenty of jazz too. If you haven't been to the Festival of the Sound make plans to get there as soon as possible. You won't be disappointed.

Our video this week features a very young James Campbell making music with Glenn Gould. Glenn Gould playing Debussy? This is a rarity. Debussy's First Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano.

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Evelyn Lear in memoriam


Evelyn Lear (Jan. 8 1926 - July 1 2012)

With the passing of American soprano Evelyn Lear, the opera world has lost one of its most esteemed artists. According to a report in the Washington Post, Lear died earlier today (July 1) at the Brooke Grove Nursing Center in Sandy Spring at the age of 86. Her passing was confirmed by her son, Jan Stewart. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lear attended Hunter College and the Juilliard School, later at the Berliner Hochschule fur Musik on a Fulbright Scholarship, studying voice with soprano Maria Ivogun, who was also the teacher of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.  According to her official website, Lear's career spanned five decades and she sang a staggering 7,500 opera and concert performances.  She was renowned for her interpretation of the works of Mozart (Pamina, Donna Elvira, Contessa, Cherubino, Fiordiligi), Strauss (Ariadne, Komponist, Marschallin, Octavian), Mahler, Schoenberg (Marie) and Alban Berg (Lulu), as well as contemporary composers the likes of Marvin David Levy, Leonard Bernstein, and Thomas Pasatieri. She created the role of Lavinia in Levy's Mourning Becomes Electra, a role that marked her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1967. Her silvery soprano and her musical intelligence were praised by audience and critics alike. She worked with many great conductors throughout her career, including Karl Bohm, who was instrumental in her career. She sang for many seasons at the Met, and made her farewell there as the Marschallin in 1985.  She sang in Toronto on a number of occasions, as Giulietta in Tales of Hoffmann and Countess Geschwitz in Lulu, and as soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She also taught masterclasses at the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.  She married her second husband, bass-baritone Thomas Stewart in 1955 until his death in 2006.  After her retirement, Lear became a highly sought after teacher and jury panelist in competitions. 

To remember this wonderful artist, here are two Youtube clips that are representative of the artistry of Evelyn Lear.  The first is Richard Strauss' Morgen. Lear was a wonderful Lieder singer, for her depth of understanding and interpretation. The second clip is the complete recording of Deutsche Grammophon recording of Wozzeck in which Lear sings Marie.  Marie, together with Lulu and the Marschallin, are three of her most famous roles. She is partnered here by the Wozzeck of the late/great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. 

— Joseph K. So

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