Presto News - 16th September 2016
Synergy Vocals and Matthias Goerne perform music by Luciano Berio and Gustav Mahler
When composer Pierre Boulez was once asked by an American radio station to list his top ten works of the twentieth century, one of his choices was the Sinfonia by Luciano Berio. Written in 1968 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, it is scored not only for large orchestra but also eight solo voices. Originally written with The Swingle Singers in mind, the honours are taken here by The Synergy Vocals, and I must say it's quite a tour de force!
The vocal parts require not only singing but also speaking, whispering, chattering, and shouting. However, this description doesn't adequately cover the sheer range of techniques required (if you have ever listened to Berio's Sequenza for voice then you will be aware of the considerable demands he places upon his singers!), and the performance here is nothing short of staggering at every turn.
Berio asks for the recitation of various texts, whether it be excerpts from Claude Lévi-Strauss's 1964 mythological study, Le cru et le cruit, in the first movement, or a passage from Samuel Beckett's novel The Unnamable in the third. The five-minute second movement is dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, and its text consists simply of the words “O King, O Martin Luther King” sung repeatedly. Surrounded as it is by the raucous hubbub of its neighbouring movements, it's an extremely beautiful, hushed elegy, especially when performed as hauntingly as it is here.
For the central third movement, Berio takes as his framework one of Gustav Mahler's Knaben Wunderhorn Lieder, 'Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt' (also used by Mahler as the third-movement Scherzo in his Resurrection Symphony, composed around the same time as the song). Around this Mahlerian skeleton, Berio interweaves not only his own music but also snippets of other pieces by composers such as Bach, Berlioz, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Boulez and many others. Sometimes these quotations are worked in because they happen to share the same metre as the Mahler (so at various points we hear fragments of Ravel's La Valse and the waltz from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier), but occasionally they are prompted by the text, so when one of the sopranos quotes from Paul Valéry's poem Le Cimetière marin (“La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée!”), we hear a flash of Debussy's La mer!
Again, any attempt to describe this movement can't possibly do full justice to how extraordinary an accomplishment it is; it's much more than simply copying out some Mahler and throwing in a few other bits and pieces, and the overall effect in performance is remarkable, shifting from violent orchestral outbursts to some truly sublime moments. Berio's wit is on display too: towards the end of the movement, just as the Mahlerian music is dying out, one of the tenors intones “There was even, for a second, hope of resurrection, or almost...”.
With my focus on the vocal demands of this piece, I shouldn't forget that it's not exactly easy for the orchestra either, but the BBC Symphony Orchestra navigate the twisting and shifting styles with phenomenal authority, aided by the expert ear of conductor Josep Pons, who allows the myriad quotations to come across deftly, and the balance between voices and orchestra, even during the most ferocious climaxes, is never less than ideal.
I’ve barely space to mention the other work on the disc: given the Mahlerian references in the Sinfonia it’s fitting that it should be coupled with Berio’s orchestrations of ten early Mahler Lieder. Unlike the Sinfonia, Berio’s role here is not to reimagine but simply to orchestrate, and aside from perhaps a dash more percussion in places than I might have expected, they seem to me to retain the spirit of Mahler’s music.
For these songs the BBC Symphony Orchestra are joined by one of my favourite baritones, Matthias Goerne. I say baritone, but he seems to be several singers rolled into one: the richest bass notes at the bottom of his range blend effortlessly into a beautifully lyrical high register. It’s an outstanding performance from Goerne, and makes a welcome companion to a most impressive account of the Sinfonia.
Berio: Sinfonia & Berio/Mahler: 10 Frühe Lieder
Matthias Goerne (baritone), Synergy Vocals, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Josep Pons
Presto Interview – Roderick Williams on Schubert
Baritone Roderick Williams's selection of Schubert Lieder came out a few weeks ago (with Iain Burnside at the piano), to instant acclaim - indeed it was the huge volume of appreciative comments inundating us after its release that prompted Katherine to get in touch with Roderick and find out more about this album.
Gramophone Awards 2016 - Recording of the Year
The waiting is finally over; the special awards and Recording of the Year of 2016's Gramophone Awards have been announced. Igor Levit's heavyweight triple-bill of variations by Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski scoops the top spot this year, while special awards also go to Daniil Trifonov, Christa Ludwig and Benjamin Appl.
We're offering special prices on all twelve category winners - click here to browse through our special offer!
James Longstaffe - email@example.com
16th September 2016
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Rachmaninov’s First Symphony has a somewhat chequered history, but is now seen as a vibrant depiction of Russian civilisation and culture, recognised for its fluid longing and expressive features. Balakirev's Tamara is widely considered his greatest work - a sensuous and melodic work influenced by exotic and oriental culture.
Benjamin Grosvenor: Homages
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Benjamin Grosvenor explores works by great composers paying tribute to their predecessors. Amongst these works, Mendelssohn and Franck look back to the Prelude & Fugue form made so popular by Bach. Busoni takes Bach’s great solo violin Chaconne, presenting it in a bold transcription for piano; Chopin breathes new life into the traditional ‘Barcarolle’ of Venetian gondoliers, followed ten years later by Liszt’s tribute to Italian folksong, Venezia e Napoli.
Download - download options (including Hi-Res) available for this item (with extra, download-only recording of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin)
Steve Reich: Double Sextet & Radio Rewrite
Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman
Following their internationally acclaimed recording of Steve Reich’s 1974-76 masterpiece 'Music For 18 Musicians', Ensemble Signal and Brad Lubman present two recent pieces by the composer: 'Double Sextet' from 2007 and 'Radio Rewrite' from 2012 – strong, tuneful, energetic, tightly-made works.
François Couperin: Leçons de Ténèbres
Lucy Crowe (soprano) & Elizabeth Watts (sopranos), La Nuova Musica, David Bates
François Couperin's setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah fuse devotional expression with a dramatic performing style embodied here by sopranos Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts. Two Trio Sonatas and a 'Stabat Mater' by Sébastien de Brossard round out this luminous programme.
Songs From Our Ancestors
Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Xuefei Yang (guitar)
Globe Music is a new label from Shakespeare’s Globe that sets out to capture the intimacy of candlelit concerts in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. This first release features tenor Ian Bostridge and guitarist Xuefei Yang. Their eclectic journey traces a poetic path through history from Shakespeare’s contemporary John Dowland, through Schubert, Britten and Chinese folk music, to contemporary composers Domenick Argento, Stephen Goss and Chen Yi.
Saint-Saëns & Chausson: Piano Quartets
It would be hard to find a more vivid demonstration of the variety of French music-making in the last quarter of the nineteenth century than these two quartets. From Saint-Saëns’s witty and elegant Quartet in B flat major to Chausson’s relatively unknown, rhapsodic, and full-blooded Quartet in A major, the Schubert Ensemble reveals two extremes of the French romantic repertoire.
Fritz Wunderlich: Complete Studio Recordings on DG (32 CDs)
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor)
This set presents Wunderlich's complete studio recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Philips and Polydor. As well as classic recordings of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Haydn’s Creation, it includes rarities such as the 1957 Bach Easter Oratorio and Magnificat, plus a bonus CD of early recordings (1954–1957) of popular material, including two trumpet solos from Wunderlich.
Verdi: Otello (DVD)
Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Sonya Yoncheva (Desdemona), Željko Lučić (Iago), Metropolitan Opera & Chorus, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)
Directed by the Tony Award winning director Bartlett Sher, this lavish production of Verdi's operatic masterpiece features an exciting cast performing alongside the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus, conducted by their new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
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