Sunday January 2: The old year passes away and
we reach the very bottom of the seasonal cycle in mid-winter. With
that wondrous annual procession of changes in mind, I devote this
first Sunday of 2005 to a brand new recording of Franz Josef Haydn’s
oratorio Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons, 1801). Haydn looked to
English poetry as inspiration for his enormous box office success
Die Schopfung, (The Creation, 1798). Mitton’s Paradise Lost
and the King James Bible are the sourcebooks for The Creation.
For The Seasons Haydn’s librettist Baron Van Swieten translated
into German the verse of Scottish poet James Thompson. Van Sweiten
hoped the composer would work a second time the wonders he had
performed previously on Mitton’s epic. This time around the
solos are sung not by angels but by peasants who observe the seasonal
alterations in the weather. The new Harmonia Mundi issue of The
Seasons features the period instrumentalists of the Freiburg Baroque
Orchestra with the RIAS Chamber Choir, Rene Jacobs conducting.
You’ll hear Die Jahreszeiten in a performance given at the
2003 Innsbruck Festival, sung in German.
Sunday January 9: My series of broadcasts of the recorded plays
of William Shakespeare continues into the winter of 2005. Long
before there was any radio or TV people would gather by the hearth
on long, cold winter nights and tell stories to each other while
the winter away. I have such a fireside story for you from the
master storyteller of them all: one of the Bard’s late tragicomedies
The Winter’s Tale (1611). The paranoia of King Leontes sets
off a chain of events, the results of which stretch over sixteen
years. As the Bard works it out on stage, what was sown in sorrow
and discord is eventually reaped in joy and reconciliation. The
Argo Records complete series of Shakespeare’s play on LP
vinyl discs is now long out of print. All the plays were acted
by the Marlowe Dramatic Society and Professional Players, directed
by George Rylands. The Winter’s Tale is presented complete
and uncut in the text of the new Shakespeare, as edited by John
Dover Wilson. The voice of Britain’s leading Shakespearean
actor of today, Sir Ian McKellen can be heard in two small roles.
Sunday January 16: It was difficult enough to establish an internationally
recognized and distinctly American style of opera, witness Gershwin’s
Porgy and Bess or Copeland’s The Tender Land. Imagine the
difficulty involved in creating a recognizably Australian form
of opera! Composer Richard Meale (b. 1932 in Sydney) has taken
on this task in Voss (1986), which is his first lyric theatre-work.
The story of Voss is based very loosely on the historical figure
of German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt who tried but failed to cross
the vast interior of the continent of Australia. He died in the
attempt in 1845. Voss the opera doesn’t show us Leichhardt’s
exploits. Rather, it seeks to externalize the inner life of Voss,
in particular through his correspondence with a young woman, the
niece of the financial backer of his ill-fated expedition. The
premiere stage production of Voss was mounted by Australian Opera
of Sydney. It was taped in the Sydney studios of the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation. The world premiere recording of Voss
was released in 1989 on two PHILIPS compact discs.
Since Voss is not a particularly long opera, we’ll have time remaining
this afternoon to explore the byways of contemporary American opera. Stay tuned
for Elliot Carter’s What Next? (2000), a chamber-scale one act opera
of forty minutes airtime duration. EMC is a German record label well known
for its support of avant-garde jazz. EMC’s new series has carried many
out-of-the-way classical music items. What Next? explores the personal consciousness
of five adults and one child, who witness an accident. Recorded live in performance
in Amsterdam, the six singers and the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra are
led by Peter Eotvos.
Sunday January 23: Kurt Weill’s Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt
Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny 1930) sets forth
an ugly and tragic story, not recommended for lovers of pleasant
operatic fantasies. Mahagonny is an indictment of the entrepreneurial
spirit of the modern world. Amoral hustlers found in the city.
It goes through a boom period. Then the cycle of its sleazy business
activities winds down in anarchy and violence. A common worker
Jimmy Mahoney, the would-be hero of the opera, is condemned to
death because he cannot pay a tiny debt. Weill identified Mahoney
with America, more specifically New York City. He looked at the
capitalist system through the eyes of an alienated wage slave struggling
to survive in pre-Nazi Germany. Mahagonny was revived at the Met
in 1982 and was televised on National Public TV. Shortly thereafter
CBS Masterworks released in the 1956 monaural recording of Mahagonny
starring Kurt Weill’s widow, the famous singer Lotte Lenya.
Finally the old classic Columbia recording has been reissued on
silver disc through Sony Classical. Wilheim Bruckner-Ruggeberg
conducts the chorus and orchestra of North German Radio, plus Lenya
and her singer colleagues. Keep listening for two Weill rarities,
the cantata Vom To dim Wald and the Berllner Requiem, which date
from the same period as Mahagonny and The Three Penny Opera, taken
from a recent German Harmonia Mundi Release.
Sunday January 30: This will be the second time I have offered
up an opera by American composer Dominick Argento (b. 1927). I
presented the Minnesota Opera’s cast recording of A Postcard
from Morocco (1971) on Sunday, December 27, 1992. Now you get to
hear Argento’s modern-day opera buffa treatment of the outrageous
exploits of the infamous libertine and the adventurer Giovanni
Casanova (1725-98). The composer wrote both the music and libretto
of Casanova’s Homecoming(1984). The story of the opera is
largely biographical. Although so much of what happens on stage
seems unbelievable, Argento derived most of it from Casanova’s
own memoirs, including a gender-bending subplot involving an amorous
affair with a Castro. Newport Classic picked up the tapings of
the Moores Opera Center production of Casanova’s Homecoming,
captured live in performance on October 14, 2001. The Moores Opera
Center is part of the Moorse School of Music of the University
Sunday February 6: Falstaff (1893) is a marvelous finale to Giuseppe
Verdi’s career as an opera composer. With an excellent libretto
by Arrigo Boito to work from, Verdo handled all the dramatic aspects
of Shakespeare’s comedy with a mastery unparalleled in anything
he had written previously. Sony released a recording of the opera
made at La Scala in June of 1993. Bariton Juan Pons starred as
the reprobate English knight, with Riccardo Muti conducting. The
latest Falstaff on silver disc is Sir Colin Davis’ take on
it, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Baritone Michele
Pertusi sings in the tile role. The LSO live record label released
their DSD (Direct Stream Digital) two CD set of Falstaff in 2004.
Sunday February 13: Ash Wednesday was this past February 9th,
which means that the penitential period of Lent, as it’s
observed in the traditional Christian calendar, has arrived on
the earlier side this year. In parts of Europe the opera houses
used to close down for the entire duration of five weeks up to
Easter will focus on sacred choral music, or any good quality vocal
music of a generally religious nature within the context of the
Judeo-Christian heritage. There are new recordings aplenty of this
genre of music to present. Consider Mauricio Kagel’s Sankt
Bach Passion (1985). Musicians all over the world have long revered
Johann Sebastian Bach. Kagel is one of them, but he has gone so
far as to canonize Bach and make him the narrator of his Passion
according to Bach. In his score for the Passion-oratorio Kagel
has incorporated and tonally tweaked favorite chorale tunes and
various melodic motifs written by the master, not to mention the
tones of his family name B-A-C-H (B flat). For a text Kagel has
drawn upon J.S. Bach’s correspondence, plus contemporary
accounts of Bach the man, and verse from the master’s cantatas.
The Sankt Bach Passion was created for the 1985 Berlin Festival.
Thereafter it was recorded by South German Radio of Stuttgart,
with the composer conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart,
three topnotch German choral groups and three distinguished vocal
soloists: mezzo Anne Sofra von Otter, tenor Hans-Peter Blochwitz
and baritone Roland Herman. A 2002 Montaigne release on two silver
Sunday February 20: Christus am Olberge (Christ on the Mount of
Olives, 1802) is Beethoven’s only oratorio. At forty-odd
minutes of airplay, it does really constitute a full-length work
in that line. Beethoven concerned himself only with that brief
portion of the beginning of the Passion narrative that takes place
in the garden of Gethsemany after the Last Supper. There Jesus
endured emotional suffering, restrained his disciple Peter from
an act of violence and peacefully submitted to arrest. Frans Huber’s
libretto ends with Jesus now wholly committed to complete his Act
of Redemption. The oratorio closes with a hallelujah chorus of
angels worthy of Handel, albeit in the style of the “Eroica” symphony.
Chritus am Olberge, one of Beethoven’s most overlooked masterpieces,
has received the interpretation it most certainly deserves from
Kent Nagano, leading the German Symphony Orchestra of Berlin and
the Berlin Radio Chorus. Tenor Placido Domingo is heard in the
role of Christ. This Harmonia Mundi recording of the work won highest
praise from James H. North, whose review appeared in the Sept/Oct
2004 issue of Fanfare magazine.
Now for something completely different to fill out the afternoon’s Lenten
listening: something truly ancient derived from the Roman Catholic cultus of
the Saints. The music of the Middle Ages often sounds exotic to us today. There
is still much conjecture among scholars in the “early music” field
as to how it should be performed. Ultimately we may never know for sure how
to interpret the neumatic notation of a thousand years or more ago. One very
interesting speculative account comes to us in a 1996 Arcana compact disc:
Historia Sancti Eadmundi, a liturgical drama in Latin language about Eadmond
Walfing (c. 884-870) the last Saxon king of East Anglia, a Christian nobleman
martyred at the hands of pagan Norse invaders. He is known to posterity as
St. Edmund of Bury. Before St. Edward the confessor, or St. George, St. Edmond
was regarded as the patron saint of England. West German radio of Cologne co-produced
with Arcana the recording of the singers and players of the La Reverdie Ensemble.
Sunday February 27: Leonard Bernstein (1918-93) is surely the
most famous American composer of the twentieth century. In 1971,
for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in
Washington DC, Bernstein created his Mass, which is actually an
enormous polyglot theatre piece for singers, players and dancers.
Bernstein’s Mass reflects what he saw as the crisis of faith
underlying all the ennui of the twentieth century civilization.
Bernstein himself and Stephen Schwarz supplied provocative secular
texts which the juxtaposed with the Latin words of the Roman Catholic
Ordinary of the Mass. Kent Nagano had a go at Mass in a concert
setting, employing the musical resources of the German Symphony
Orchestra of Berlin and The Berlin Radio Chorus. Mass was recorded
in co-production with German Radio of Berlin in that city’s
Philharmonie hall. The celebrant of the Mass is American tenor
Jerry Hadley. A 2004 Harmonia Mundi release.
The perfect compliment to Bernstein’s Mass comes from a composer of the
post- Lenny Generation: the Paradisio Oratorio of Jacob Ter Velhuis (b. 1951).
Among other things, he is a master of audio sampling technique. What makes
him unique perhaps amongst his contemporaries is that he can craft his electronic
sound bytes to blend perfectly with the sounds of the traditional acoustic
symphony orchestra. He strives to write traditionally beautiful, melodically
pleasing music. He opposes what he perceives as the prevailing gloom-and-doom
mood of “serious” music from the mid twentieth century onward.
Aiming at nothing less than ecstasy, Ter Veldhuis looked to the third book
of Dante’s Divine Comedy for a description of the various levels of Paradise
ascending from the earthly Paradise of the Garden of Eden, through the heavenly
spheres of medieval cosmology to the Empyrean, the highest heaven to total
light. The music and its accompanying videos were ready for the first performance.
Then came 11 September. Ter Velhuis and the performers were given to go-ahead
for a premiere on September 12, 2001, although the tragic events of the previous
day cast a new light on the possible impact of his creation on the public.
In 2003 Chandos Records brought out the Paradiso Oratorio on a single CD. Alexander
Leibreich conducts the North Netherlands Orchestra and the Concert Choir, with
tenor Tom Allen as the Italian poet Dante and soprano Claron McFadden as Beatrice,
the poet’s spiritual guide through Paradise.
Rob Meehan, former classics deejay here at WWUH and avid collector of “alternative
musics” of the 20th and 21st centuries has leant us the recordings of
Richard Meale’s Voss, Eliot Carter’s What Next?, Kurt Weiil’s
Mahagonny, Vom To dim Wald and the Berliner Requiem, Argento’s Casanova’s
Homecoming, Kaegel’s Sankt Bach Passion and the Ter Veldhuis Paradiso
Oratorio. Form my own collection comes the old LP set of Shakespeare’s
The Winter’s Tale and the Arcana CD of the Historia Sanctu Eadmundi.
Everything else that’s featured over this two-month period of programming
is derived from our station’s ever-growing library of classical music
on silver disc.
Program Guide, 2005