Presto News - 27th May 2013
100th anniversary of the première of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring
Very few musical premières can claim to be as notorious as the evening of 29th May, 1913, when Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, under the baton of Pierre Monteux, presented the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). Reports abound of laughter and general uproar from the audience, which apparently reached such a volume that the on-stage dancers could no longer hear the voice of choreographer Nijinsky shouting out the step numbers to them from the wings! It is debatable whether the majority of the criticism was aimed at the music or the choreography, but in any case there is no denying the raw power of the work, with its savage rhythms and frenzied conclusion during which the Chosen One dances herself to death.
Sir Simon Rattle
Of course, the piece remains a technical challenge today, and with its complicated rhythms and continually-changing time signatures it is a great test of any orchestra’s virtuosity. With this in mind, I’ve been very much enjoying Sir Simon Rattle’s recent recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. There’s no doubting the almost unparalleled expertise of this orchestra, but then again Stravinsky himself was famously dismissive of their 1963 recording under their former conductor, Herbert von Karajan (he called it “too polished, a pet savage, rather than a real one”), and so I was very interested to hear whether both conductor and this most refined of orchestras would be able to capture something of the brutal, primeval nature of the work.
What struck me most was Rattle’s focus on the work’s sensuality, especially in its early stages. Even the opening bar is seductive rather than primitive, with Rattle refusing to allow any hint of the fragility that often permeates the terrifyingly high bassoon solo that begins the piece. There is brutality elsewhere: certainly by the end of the first part seduction has given way to sheer violence, and as the sacrifice approaches, the orchestra becomes increasingly ferocious. By the time we arrive at this final Danse sacrale, Rattle has fully let his orchestra ‘off the leash’: the trombones and tubas gain a fantastic bite to their sound, and it makes the end even more raw, as we have been denied such extreme barbarity until these closing moments.
Little details that I often listen for are happily present and correct: the groaning horns come through wonderfully in the section entitled Dances of the Young Girls (complete with a fine pair of antique cymbals!), and there is plenty of strident piccolo trumpet and clarinet in the heavingly chaotic moments just before the infamous Augurs of Spring section. This latter part, with its repeated string chords punctuated by rasping horns, comes across very well indeed, with a weighty string sound interrupted by pleasingly punchy stabs from the eight horns.
If, like me, you’re one of those people for whom one recording of The Rite is nowhere near enough, then you should definitely take a look also at the 100th anniversary collector’s edition released by Decca, which includes no fewer than thirty-eight recordings of the piece, ranging from a 1946 account with Eduard van Beinum conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, to Gustavo Dudamel’s 2010 recording with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Included are many classic accounts, with an impressive list of conductors such as Bernstein, Abbado, Colin Davis, Haitink, Solti, and Monteux himself, and the set also incorporates three recordings in an arrangement for piano duet. Certainly not a collection for the faint of heart, then, but I must say it’s been fascinating to compare the seemingly endless ways of interpreting this great work. Also included is a 1977 Rattle recording with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and two recordings conducted by Karajan, including the 1963 version I mentioned earlier, so you can decide for yourself whether Stravinsky had a point!
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps
Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps
100th Anniversary Collector's Edition
38 recordings of The Rite of Spring
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Henri Dutilleux, 1916-2013
“Everything that Dutilleux has written in the last decades belongs to the category of masterpiece”. These were the words of conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen regarding the French composer, Henri Dutilleux, who sadly died last week at the age of 97. One of the great twentieth-century composers, he consistently gave us music full of wonderful sounds and ravishing orchestral effects. Nowhere is this more evident than in perhaps his best-known pieces, namely the concertos for cello (Tout un monde lointain) and violin (L’Arbre des songes). If you’re looking for an introduction to his music, then I’d suggest a 2-disc EMI set, which includes both of these concertos, featuring none other than Mstislav Rostropovich and Renaud Capuçon as the soloists.
Furthermore, there’s a truly outstanding disc from earlier this year, conducted by Salonen with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, containing one of my favourite Dutilleux pieces, Correspondances, for soprano and orchestra. This is most certainly worth a listen: not only is soprano Barbara Hannigan on typically amazing form, but I can think of no other orchestral piece that contains a duet (albeit a very brief one) for accordion and tuba! As well as these two discs, listed below, you can browse all of the available recordings of his music here.
Dutilleux: Concertos & Orchestral Works
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Renaud Capuçon (violin), various orchestras, Georges Prêtre, Serge Baudo, Myung-Whun Chung & Michel Plasson (conductors)
Dutilleux: Correspondances; Tout un monde lointain; The Shadows of Time
Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Anssi Karttunen (cello), Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Esa-Pekka Salonen
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
27th May 2013
Sir Colin Davis: The Philips Years
Originally planned as an 85th birthday tribute, this set documents over three decades of exceptional artistry by Sir Colin Davis, one of the musical pillars of the Philips label (now part of Decca Classics), who died on Sunday, 14th April 2013. He was a musician of incomparable integrity and class.
Journeys: Emerson String Quartet
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht and Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence
This is the first time the quartet has ever recorded a work by Arnold Schoenberg. It is also the first time in almost 30 years they have recorded a work by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; they have never recorded “Souvenir de Florence”. After 36 years of extensive touring, the Emerson Quartet continues to perform with the same benchmark integrity, energy and commitment that it has demonstrated since it was formed in 1976.
Schubert: Winterreise D911
Christoph Prégardien (tenor) & Michael Gees (piano)
World-famous tenor Christoph Prégardien continues his series of recordings of Schubert song-cycles, with what many consider to be the composer’s greatest work in the genre, “Winterreise”. As with the previous critically acclaimed release of “Die Schöne Müllerin” the pianist on this hybrid SACD is Michael Gees.
Lalo & Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos
Peter Wispelwey (cello), Flanders Symphony Orchestra, Seiko Kim
After a highly acclaimed recording of Britten’s Cello Symphony, Pieter Wispelwey and the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiko Kim, turn to two romantic cello concertos whose neglect is hard to fathom.
A. Scarlatti & Handel: Dixit Dominus
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Esther Brazil (mezzo-soprano), Sally Bruce-Payne (mezzo-soprano), Guy Cutting (tenor) & Matthew Brook (bass-baritone), Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford & The Brook Street Band, Owen Rees
The Brook Street Band join forces with the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford, and their director Owen Rees, for the first ever pairing on disc of the two settings of the Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti and George Frideric Handel.
Feldman: Violin and Orchestra
Carolin Widmann (violin), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Emilio Pomàrico
German violinist Carolin Widmann’s widely acclaimed ECM recordings have traversed a broad arc of music - from Schubert and Schumann to Tüür and Xenakis. Here she turns her attention to one of the pivotal works of New York composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987). Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1979, marked a new direction, with an almost painterly attention to detail in slowly unfolding music.
Nino Machaidze: Arias & Scenes
Nino Machaidze (soprano), Orchestre national de France, Daniele Gatti
This recording looks ahead to the new roles that Nino Machaidze will sing in the future.French repertoire has become a major part of her career and is represented in this recital with arias by Massenet, Bizet and Ambroise Thomas. She will debut at the Vienna State Opera this June in the role of Juliette with Plácido Domingo conducting and Piotr Beczala as Roméo.
Verdi: Rigoletto (DVD)
Piotr Beczała (Il Duca), Željko Lučić (Rigoletto), Diana Damrau (Gilda), Oksana Volkova (Maddalena), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, Michele Mariotti (conductor)
The sought-after lyric tenor Piotr Beczała is the womanising Duke in this new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto from the Metropolitan Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role and Diana Damrau sings Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda. Director Michael Mayer has placed his new production of Verdi’s towering tragedy in Las Vegas in 1960 – an ideal setting for this eternal conflict of depravity and innocence.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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