Thursday, January 19, 2017
Soprano Renee Fleming has been entertaining and thrilling audiences for a long time. Still, there is excitement when we get a new recording by this fine artist. Her new CD is titled ‘Distant Light’, and it features the following: Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 Bjork: Virus Joga All is Full of Love, arr. Hans Ek Hillborg: ‘The Strand Settings’ the world premiere recording. All selections performed by Renée Fleming (soprano), with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo conducting. ‘Distant Light’ is Renée Fleming’s first journey into the amazing world of Scandinavian music. For her first new studio album in three years she has chosen to inspire us with a daring mix of music. The title comes from a poem in a new song cycle dedicated to Renée and here receiving its world premiere recording: Anders Hillborg’s ‘The Strand Settings’. “At once atmospheric, elegiac and unsettling, the work was crafted with Ms. Fleming’s creamy voice in mind”, wrote the New York Times at its first performance in 2013. One of Sweden’s brightest star composers Hillborg has a close relationship with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic where this recording was made in February 2016 with its principal conductor Sakari Oramo. Renée couples this with three songs by Björk in specially commissioned orchestrations by the brilliant Swedish composer and arranger Hans Ek, recorded here for the first time. Why Björk? Both she and Renée are recipients of Sweden’s Polar Music Prize. Both dare to be original. In the fascinating booklet interview Renée talks about her admiration for Björk: “Her originality is breathtaking. She just blazes her own path forward”. Renée chooses the songs which mean the most to her personally and musically. The Guardian wrote a few days ago: “As a vehicle for the soaring purity of Fleming’s voice, and as an evocation of Strand’s very finely etched sensibility, Hillborg’s settings are genuinely beautiful and their cumulative effect is powerful…” Here is Renee Fleming:
Metropolitan Opera (Warner Classics, 22 CDs)In September 1966, the Metropolitan Opera in New York began its first season in its new home, a purpose-built theatre with state-of-the-art stage machinery on Broadway, part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The Met’s general manager, Rudolf Bing, had put together a particularly glittering programme for the company’s first season in its new home, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening, this set brings together recordings of 10 of the operas that were part of it. The recordings come from radio broadcasts during the run of each production, though the performance of the work commissioned to open the new house, Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, is that of the very first night, on 16 September 1966, with Justino Díaz and Leontyne Price in the title roles, and Thomas Schippers conducting the rather overblown, neo-Romantic score. The sound on all the mono recordings is variable, with the Met chorus and orchestra generally getting the worst of it, and inevitably there’s a lot of extraneous audience and stage noise, with perspectives sometimes shifting rather disconcertingly, but the best of the performances transcend the sonic limitations. Continue reading...
National Opera House, Wexford The Wexford festival opened with two contrasting works. Félicien David’s overblown opera about the eruption of Vesuvius was the less distinctiveThe first two operas of Wexford’s 2016 festival could scarcely be more different. Félicien David’s Herculanum is an overblown mid-19th-century French grand opera with all the trimmings (though here, the ballet is cut), while Samuel Barber’s Vanessa is an elusive piece of nostalgic late-Romanticism, subtly scored and essentially intimate.Herculanum is set in a fictionalised version of the ancient Roman town Herculaneum in the period leading up to its burial by Vesuvius, whose AD79 eruption brings the action to a spectacular close. In 1859, Parisian critics, Hector Berlioz among them, found its visuals thrilling. Continue reading...
Conceptually, we think that sound is sound and silence is silence. The two seem neatly separated and distinct - in fact opposite of each other. But this is only how we think, how we conceptualize. This is not how Reality is perceived, before we put everything into neat, nicely labeled (but deceptive) little packages. We think there only has to be sound for there to be sound. We overlook that there must also be silence for there to be sound. And because of sound, there is silence. Were there no sound, how could there be silence? Before you strike a bell, sound is already here. After you strike the bell, the sound is here. When the sound fades and dies away, the sound is still here. The sound is not just the sound but the silence, too. And the sound is the sound. This is what is actually perceived before we parse everything out into this and that, into "myself" and "what I hear". The sound of the bell is inseparable from everything that came before and that will come after, as well as from everything that appears now. This includes your eardrum, which vibrates in response to it. It includes the air, which pulses with varying waves of pressure in response to it. It includes the stick that strikes the bell. It includes the metallurgists, past and present, and those who learned to extract metal from ore and those who fashioned the bell. And it includes that ancient furnace, that supernova obliterated long ago in which this metal formed. Remove any of these - indeed, remove anything at all - and there can be no sound of the bell. The sound of the bell is thus not "the sound of the bell." It is the entire Universe.That passage from 'Buddhism is not what you think' by Steve Hagen is a pithy exposition of the essence of Zen. It also explores the indivisibility of sound and silence, a concept that Zen practitioner John Cage famously explored. Moreover it touches on the principle of oneness of being that informs the waḥdat al-wujūd teachings of the twelfth-century Sufi mystic, poet, and philosopher Ibn 'Arabi and the canonical texts of Advaita Vedānta. Which leads on to the centrality of vibrations, and ever onwards to how subatomic physics explains that one object can affect another irrespective of temporal and spatial distance between them. Parallels have been drawn between James Joyce's non-linear stream of consciousness prose and the core Zen practice of mindfulness, which involves observing and noting one’s thoughts and emotions as they arise. Toru Takemitsu - yet another seriously underrated composer - was influenced both by Zen and James Joyce's novels. Takemitsu's 'A Way A Lone' for string quartet takes its title and inspiration from the enigmatic ending of Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake' - "The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the." Recordings of 'A Way A Lone' are as elusive as the meaning of Zen. The one above, which is now deleted, by the Tokyo String Quartet couples the Takemitsu with a rare performance of Samuel Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11 from which the celebrated Adagio for Strings is taken, and Britten's String Quartet No. 2. No comps used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
Pailthorpe/BBCSO/Brabbins (Champs Hill)Oboist Emily Pailthorpe has put together an intriguing programme from the limited repertoire available. She begins with a lusciously long-breathed account of Strauss’s late concerto, then makes lyrical work of Samuel Barber’s valedictory Canzonetta, both backed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Martyn Brabbins. The disc takes its name from Richard Blackford’s oboe concerto The Better Angels of Our Nature, written for Pailthorpe in 2013. Fifteen minutes long, it is initially evocative of mid-20th-century Americana, then has at its fulcrum a haunting rendition of Taps, the military bugle call played at sunset or a funeral. The music that follows this is melancholy, yet ultimately consoling, and though the downbeat ending is almost anticlimactic, Pailthorpe and Brabbins make it work. In between come Barber’s Summer Music and Janáček’s Mládí (Youth), in which Pailthorpe is not strictly in the spotlight, but is a distinctive voice leading a stylish chamber ensemble of BBCSO principals. Continue reading...
“I’ve never understood why the music of America’s midcentury modern composers disappeared from our concert halls. Not only is it “entertaining,” but it speaks to ordinary listeners in a direct, immediately comprehensible way, just like the better-known music of Copland and Samuel Barber. Don’t take my word for it—try listening for yourself.”
Great composers of classical music