Presto News - 9th June 2014
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Bernstein's West Side Story
A fabulous new recording of a work that’s close to my heart this week – a childhood encounter with Bernstein’s West Side Story was the gateway to my life-long love-affair with music-theatre and opera. I got to know the work through an old cassette of the original Broadway recording from 1957 and through Bernstein’s own ‘operatic’ recording from 1984, starring Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras as the star-crossed lovers and immortalised in ‘The Making of West Side Story’, one of the finest music documentaries ever made.
Cheyenne Jackson and Alexandra Silber
Taken from concert performances in June 2013, this new set from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra steers an ideal course between these two earlier interpretations. It’s conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, who had a close working relationship with Bernstein and has been a wonderful ambassador for his music throughout his career – not least with a definitive recording of On The Town in 1992.
Fans of the 1961 film will certainly hear some differences in scoring: in an insightful booklet-note interview, Tilson Thomas explains that he’s using ‘the Broadway orchestration, beefed up a little’, with the string section expanded beyond what could be accommodated in the average theatre-pit and brass/wind parts which would usually be taken by a multi-tasking single player spread amongst various specialist musicians. The score of West Side Story is something of a moveable feast, with certain numbers being swapped around and even omitted according to directors’ preferences: Tilson Thomas follows Bernstein’s own running-order, leaving out only the music which serves to cover scene-changes in staged performances.
This San Francisco take on Manhattan is far slicker and more urbane than Bernstein’s own: the ‘Dance at the Gym’ scene, as a well-intentioned community ‘mixer’ spirals into an aggressive dance-off between rival gangs, lacks some of the sleaze and danger generated by the seasoned jazzers amongst Bernstein’s session-players (you can virtually smell the sweat and testosterone on that 1984 recording), but I love the organised chaos which Tilson Thomas’s exaggerated cross-rhythms and off-kilter accents bring to the famous Mambo, and the dramatic arc of the long sequence is superbly managed.
The young lovers here are a far more believable pair than Bernstein’s operatic veterans: Alexandra Silber’s warm-toned Maria is as heart-rending as anyone could wish as the couple’s ‘death-mark’d love’ unfolds, but also feistier, sexier and wittier than many of her predecessors, which only serves to heighten the tragedy.
Her Tony is Cheyenne Jackson, a self-confessed ‘Broadway Baby’ whose credits include the American musical-comedy series Glee. His is the least operatic voice on the set, and as such may take a little getting used to for anyone accustomed to hearing more ‘classical’ tenors in the big numbers, but I think it works beautifully; a highlight is his expectant, ardent singing in ‘Something’s Coming’, always rock-steady despite the music’s jittery syncopations. (Bernstein’s increasingly cranky attempts to fine-tune this number with a flustered José Carreras in the ‘Making of…’ documentary must be some of the most excruciating rehearsal footage on film!). The other voices are similarly idiomatic, and spark off one another quite wonderfully in the astonishing ‘Tonight’ quintet (which surely ranks with the greatest operatic ensembles in the repertoire).
Another aspect of this recording which outstrips Bernstein’s own is the dialogue: the melodrama as Tony and Maria fall instantly in love at the gym is beautifully done, all self-conscious hesitations and tender flashes of humour (Bernstein allocated this scene to his son and daughter, who approach it as if it were Shakespeare).
This new set’s definitely worth a punt for fans of the film and of twentieth-century American music in general: as Tony sings, ‘Something’s coming, something good!’
Bernstein: West Side Story
Alexandra Silber (Maria), Cheyenne Jackson (Tony), Jessica Vosk (Anita), Kevin Vortmann (Riff), San Francisco Symphony, Members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Michael Tilson Thomas
Presto Interview – Julian Bliss
British clarinettist Julian Bliss's latest disc ventures a little off the beaten track, with arrangements of flute and viola works providing exciting complements to the conventional repertoire for the instrument.
Julian actually arranged these works himself; he talks to David about the album, how and why these pieces found their way onto it, and where his next steps might be taking him.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Gustav Mahler
This week James has been listening to the mighty symphonies and beautiful orchestral songs of Gustav Mahler, and picking out the best recordings to listen to – a challenging task purely because of the quality of what’s on offer!
You can read James’s Mahler recommendations here – plenty of fantastic recordings didn't make the final cut, but James’s list shows just how many excellent Mahlerian interpreters we are blessed with!
Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
9th June 2014
Anna Prohaska: Behind the Lines
Anna Prohaska (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano)
For her third solo album, Anna Prohaska tackles the worlds of peace and war in music - drawing a connection to World War I in this, the centenary year. Joined by pianist Eric Schneider, she has programmed songs ranging from Beethoven, by way of Schubert, Schumann and Liszt, and turn-of-the-century composers Fauré, Mahler and Wolf, to the early-modern works of Weill and Eisler.
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Bartók: Works for Violin and Piano Volume 3
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
James Ehnes presents his third disc of chamber works by Bartók, joined by the pianist Andrew Armstrong, violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, and clarinettist Michael Collins. The Sonatina, originally composed in 1915 for piano, was based on melodies which Bartók had collected during expeditions in Transylvania. The transcription for violin and piano heard here was produced ten years later by a young student of Bartók’s, Endre Gertler.
Tchaikovsky: The Seasons
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
Compared to his symphonies and ballets, Tchaikovsky's piano music is little-known. The Seasons is a cycle of twelve pieces, taking the listener through the months of the year. The Six Morceaux conclude with the ‘Thème original et variations’, which is often performed alone as a concert piece, but is particularly satisfying in context, as recorded here by the young, Russian born pianist, Pavel Kolesnikov.
Sibelius: Lemminkäinen Suite & The Wood-Nymph
Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä
The two tone poems presented here pre-date Sibelius’s first symphony. The source of the Lemminkäinen Suite is the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and its four movements – of which The Swan of Tuonela is often performed separately - tell of the adventures of the young hero Lemminkäinen. The Wood-Nymph only had its first complete performance in 1996, given by the performers on this disc.
King's College: After Hours
The King's Men
The King’s Men is the close harmony group made up of the choral scholars of the choir of King’s College Cambridge. This entertaining collection of popular repertoire is a faithful representation of the sound of the group in concert, and includes selections such as Get Around, Minnie the Moocher, Old Man River, and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
All-male vocal ensemble Cinquecento turns to the secular music of the Renaissance masters Philippe de Monte, Jacobus Vaet and Jacob Regnart. This music is beautiful and sensuous, with the polyphonic arts familiar from sacred works of this period now put to the service of earthly emotions. An expressively melancholic vein pervades many of these works, and one can see them as a precursor to Monteverdi’s madrigals.
Sviatoslav Richter - Solo Recordings
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
A 33-CD collection of solo recordings by the great Russian pianist, Sviatoslav Richter. The set includes music by Rachmaninov, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Schumann, Shostakovich, and others.
Stravinsky in Hollywood (DVD)
A Film by Marco Capalbo
Stravinsky in Hollywood tells the story of the composer's trials and tribulations with the Hollywood Studios. Igor Stravinsky lived in the heart of Hollywood from 1939 until shortly before his death in 1971. The film uses a combination of existing archival footage (some of it never before seen), interviews with Stravinsky and his assistant Robert Craft. The documentary includes scenes from several big studio films of the 40s brought together for the first time with the music which Stravinsky wrote for them.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 7th June 2014
Building a Library - Strauss, R: Der Rosenkavalier
First Choice (CD)
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Marschallin), Otto Edelmann (Ochs), Christa Ludwig (Octavian), Eberhard Wächter (Faninal), Teresa Stich-Randall (Sophie), Nicolai Gedda (Ein Sänger), Philharmonia Chorus & Philharmonia Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan
First Choice (DVD)
Gwyneth Jones (Marschallin), Brigitte Fassbaender (Octavian), Lucia Popp (Sophie), Manfred Jungwirth (Baron Ochs), Benno Kusche (Faninal), Francisco Araiza (Italian Singer), Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Carlos Kleiber
Disc of the Week
Dvořák: Cello Concerto
Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiří Bělohlávek
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