Presto News - 28th July 2014
Music to commemorate the First World War
100 years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, beginning the First World War – as the booklet-note for my disc of the week points out, it was only one of nearly 15,000 recorded conflicts, yet led to a loss of life on an unprecedented scale. Like many others, I’m sure, I’ve been reading and reflecting on the terrible consequences as the anniversary approached, and an imaginatively-programmed new recital-disc from the Austrian soprano Anna Prohaska has proved an insightful aid to rumination.
Ranging over four centuries and as many languages, the disc juxtaposes the familiar and the unfamiliar, so that some of the greatest military songs from the German Lied tradition (Schumann, Schubert, Wolf and Mahler all appear) sit cheek-by-jowl with rarities such as a beautiful sixteenth-century dirge by Michael Cavendish and songs by Charles Ives and Wolfgang Rihm. Of Anglo-German origin herself, Prohaska has selected songs which emphasise the communality of experience ‘behind the lines’, and the wide chronological span of the programme also draws attention to the transhistorical qualities of war. That said, the generous proportion of early twentieth-century songs (including several bitter cabaret-influenced numbers which suit Prohaska especially well) reminds us that the ‘Great War’ remains the central focus.
Currently based in Germany, Prohaska is one of the brightest and most distinctive young sopranos around at the moment, packing an astringent light lyric instrument that’s immaculately schooled but also full of quirks and character and which she uses with unmannered intelligence and imagination. She started young, singing soubrette roles at prestigious houses in her early twenties, and has since made considerable impact in demanding contemporary repertoire (particularly the title-role in Berg’s Lulu Suite) as well as making a mark in the studio with two equally eclectic themed recitals for Deutsche Grammophon. I was only intermittently gripped by these earlier recordings, but with Behind the Lines it’s instantly apparent that you’re in the presence of a singer of blazing commitment and authority. Prohaska may not have a ‘dramatic’ voice in the technical sense of the word, but she asserts herself completely even in those big set-pieces which are usually the province of heavier-voiced male singers.
Her versatility, too, is quite staggering as she takes on not only four different languages and a myriad of styles but also a whole gallery of characters including weary soldiers, grieving wives, abandoned children and consoling angels. Perhaps not everyone will take to the shrill whining she employs as the eponymous child in Hanns Eisler’s Kriegslied eines Kindes, but throughout the recital her characterisation across and within the songs is pin-sharp at every turn.
A wide-ranging programme like this could run the risk of seeming disjointed or jolting, especially as it plays fast and loose with chronology, but it really does feel like a seamless meditation: in fact there were one or two occasions where I had to check the booklet to confirm that we’d changed track, so convincing were the transitions (the haunting German folksong which opens the disc segues headlong into Beethoven’s ebullient Die Trommel gerühret, and Kurt Weill’s savagely ironic Beat, beat, drums emerges organically from the eerie coda of Mahler’s Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen). Certainly Wolfgang Rihm’s Untergang stands out as the most ‘difficult’ work on the disc, but Prohaska tears into it with such searing conviction that it becomes one of the highlights.
In short, this is a mesmerising, powerful and frequently very moving disc, full of terrible beauty and of course especially pertinent this summer. I can see myself returning to it again and again for many years to come.
Anna Prohaska: Behind the Lines
Anna Prohaska (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano)
Obituary – Carlo Bergonzi (1924-2014)
Katherine remembers the Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi, who has died at the age of ninety. A well-established favourite on the operatic stage for many decades, Bergonzi in fact began life as a baritone before being encouraged to transition to tenor roles, where he made his name - particularly in the operas of Verdi, for whose music his voice was perfectly suited.
You can read the full obituary here.
Presto Interview – Gabriel Jackson's Airplane Cantata
British composer Gabriel Jackson is a writer of distinctive, accessible choral music that has been growing in popularity in recent years among choirs both in Britain and overseas. In his latest album, Airplane Cantata, he branches out into the secular with two large-scale works that celebrate the early pioneers of aviation and the city of London - as well as showcasing the pianola-playing of Rex Lawson.
David caught up with Gabriel to ask him about his approach to composition and his writing process.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – William Walton
James surveys the music of the twentieth-century British composer William Walton - best known for his stirringly patriotic marches, but also an accomplished symphonist and choral writer (as his bombastic oratorio Belshazzar's Feast attests), as well as being more than capable of turning his hand to music for the big screen - Henry V, Battle of Britain and many more.
You can read through James's Walton choices here.
Presto Interview – Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom
A double-bill of contemporary British composers this week, with the spotlight on not only the choral music of Gabriel Jackson, but also an opera by Judith Weir (recently appointed as the first ever female Master of the Queen's Music). Katherine talks to Judith about The Vanishing Bridegroom, a supernatural and eerie work inspired by Scottish folk legends, recently released on NMC.
You can read the full interview here.
Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
28th July 2014
Elgar: Symphony No. 1
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
Conducting this all-Elgar programme is Sakari Oramo, the Finnish conductor who has been all but adopted by English music-lovers and orchestras - for ten years he was music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and since 2013 he has held the post as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Rival Queens: Simone Kermes & Vivica Genaux
Simone Kermes (soprano) & Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano), Cappella Gabetta
Simone Kermes and Vivica Genaux sing arias and duets composed at the height of the rivalry between Eighteenth-Century singers Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, featuring music by Bononcini, Händel, Leo, Lotti, Pollarolo, Porpora, and Porta.
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Sascha Goetzel
This new recording explores the eastern musical roots of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Original oriental instruments are introduced into Scheherazade: between the first and second movements the oud plays a traditional melody; the violin solos are accompanied by the qanin instead of the harp, and throughout the work a variety of Turkish and Arabian percussion instruments are delicately incorporated to support Rimsky-Korsakov's Arabic rhythm-writing.
Sofia Gubaidulina: Repentance
Jacob Kellermann (guitar), Lucas Brar (guitar), Franz Halász (guitar), Hariolf Schlichtig (viola), Wen-Sinn Yang (cello), Philipp Stubenrauch (double bass), Débora Halász (piano)
Within the output of Sofia Gubaidulina, solo and chamber music occupies a position of prominence; she has written more than eighty such works. Her latest work involving the guitar, and also the latest on this disc (and a world première recording) is Sotto voce for viola, double bass and two guitars. This varied and fascinating journey into the world of Sofia Gubaidulina’s chamber music is given us by a Munich-based group of eminent musicians.
Canticles from St Paul's
Simon Johnson (organ), St Paul's Cathedral Choir, Andrew Carwood
The Canticles are the crowning glory of the Anglican liturgy and have afforded the greatest opportunity for musical development within the Anglican rite. St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and organist Simon Johnson under their director of music Andrew Carwood present a satisfying collection including nineteenth-century masterpieces by Stanford and Charles Wood, and from the twentieth century Walton’s Coronation Te Deum, written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and Tippett’s monumental work for St John’s College Cambridge.
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 (complete)
Gundula Janowitz, Hilde Rössel-Majdan, Waldemar Kmentt, Walter Berry, Berliner Philharmoniker & Wiener Singverein, Herbert von Karajan
A 24 bit / 96 kHz remastering of this classic set delivered ‘twice complete’ – once across 5CDs, and once on a single Blu-ray Audio with the rehearsal of the Ninth Symphony. Karajan recorded the Complete Symphonies of Beethoven no fewer than 4 times for DG, but this first 1963 recording dazzled like no other, aided in no small measure by the clean, clear, daringly “lit” recordings made in Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche by the young Günter Hermanns whose debut as Karajan’s principal recording engineer this was.
Rossini: L'Italiana in Algeri
Anna Goryachova (Isabella), Alex Esposito (Mustafà), Yijie Shi (Lindoro) & Mario Cassi (Taddeo), Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, José Ramón Encinar (conductor)
Pesaro’s new offering in 2013 was an off-the-wall production of Rossini’s popular comedy, The Italian Girl in Algiers, presented as a Swinging Sixties, James Bond adventure, set in the desert oil fields of the North African coast. Davide Livermore’s gag-a-minute, helter-skelter romp followed an alarmingly life-like air-crash, which delivered the ‘Italian girl’ from Rome into the clutches of the local oil baron, Mustafa.
Blu-ray version also available here.
Strauss, R: Ariadne auf Naxos (DVD)
Soile Isokoski (Ariadne), Kate Lindsey (Composer), Laura Claycomb (Zerbinetta), Sergey Skorokhodov (Bacchus), Thomas Allen (Music Master), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)
Director Katharina Thoma sets Richard Strauss’s comedy in a country house in the South Downs (a surrogate for Glyndebourne), immediately before and during the Second World War. Hofmannsthal's conceit – that a hapless young composer has to accept the simultaneous performance of his new tragic opera with a burlesque from a commedia dell’arte troupe - is turned into a touching wartime drama of nurses, invalids, airmen – and of painful delusions and soul-searching, before final happiness.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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