Here is one of the strangest living bits of ceremonial history you will ever encounter, along with some fine, nearly forgotten music ever since. The year 1937 witnessed Paris’s International Exposition, the last continental world’s fair to take place before the Second World War, and something of a nervous set piece for political tensions of the day.
With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s opera of the Orpheus myth L’anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called “The Shepherd and the Mermaid” of some of their finds (which I haven’t yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner’s version of von Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the ‘net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.
I should most likely not distract you from giving a subscription to The Berkshire Review as a holiday gift. We need subscriptions to carry on our work, but there are a few items that have come in for review that I can warmly suggest as excellent gifts. These are not systematic, and they are not always serious, but we do recommend them. Some of them will be reviewed in detail over the following weeks.
Very few recordings really deserve to be called iconic, but the 1941 recording of Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Roger Désormière, is one. Native speakers are part of its excellence. There is a kind of lightness in the orchestral textures which is usually thought of as French, but this aspect of the recording is frequently overstated. A direction in the conducting which keeps the pace nearly conversational is fundamental. Newer recordings of Pelléas are almost all slower, even much slower. This, like the first Böhm Frau ohne Schatten is a recording surrounded by war- and both have the atmosphere of artists striving to give their native musical cultures a permanence, when permanence is mortally threatened. It is a beautiful thing that in a culture surrounded and eventually occupied by horror, these artists have given us the version of Pelléas which is the most French.
Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony!
Vasily Petrenko’s recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole “conducting animal” to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable.
The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are “double-jointed.” But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some…this is a man who’d have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!
Even before this 10-CD commemorative set was issued, I noticed a wash of nostalgia for Eugene Ormandy among baby boomers. He was inescapable for that generation, the progenitor of hundreds of LPs, only a sampling of which are contained here. Ormandy became Leopold Stokowski’s associate conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 and succeeded him two years later, beginning an unparalleled run of 44 years as music director before retiring in 1980, a reign no one will ever duplicate, or would want to. During that time Ormandy led the orchestra between 100 and 180 times a year. That, too, is a staggering statistic given that modern music directors, in their eagerness to spread themselves globally, are essentially long-term guests who drop in to visit their home orchestras for as little as a quarter of the regular season.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.