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The University of Hartford

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of March and April 2000

Sunday March 5: As an opera composer Filippo Marchetti (1831-1902) is the link between the established mid-nineteenth century operatic style of Verdi and the new stylistic movement that came to be called Verismo. Marchetti wrote seven operas, and much other music besides, but his only major success and his one claim to lasting fame in operatic history is his four-act tragedy Ruy Blas (1868). After hundreds of performances in opera houses worldwide in the nineteenth century Ruy Blas clings to the fringe of the twentieth century repertoire. Its most recent revival was in 1998 at the Teatro Pergolesi in Jesi, Italy, where it was recorded live in performance for Bongiovanni Records. Daniel Lipton conducts the musical forces. Marchettis music for Ruy Blas continues to charm listeners today with its sweet lyricism, dramatic conciseness and skillful orchestration. Ruy Blas does indeed take a big step up to a higher level of wholly integrated Italian music drama.

Sunday March 12: Today this program participates in Marathon 2000, our station’s annual week of intensive on-air fundraising. Over the years of doing my marathon pitch for pledges, I’ve found a less intense approach works best. I’ll try to keep the pitches short and the music-programming lightweight. I will repeat the kind of radio nostalgia program I did on the last Sunday of 1999. There wasn’t enough time that December afternoon to air all the great stuff I had brought with me from my own record collection, not to mention the big batch of historic recordings I had pulled out of the station’s library. You’ll hear famous crowd pleasing singing voices from the first half of the twentieth century: Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, stars of the old-time British music hall like Gracie Fields, opera stars of the past like Tito Schipa and Feodor Chaliapin and music more. Remember that "Sunday Afternoon at the Opera" carries forward a tradition of opera broadcasts in this timeslot going back to 1972 with the shows hosted by Joseph S. Terzo. You listeners have never failed to help us meet our fundraising goals in times past, so I thank you in advance for your generosity.

Sunday March 19: This Sunday you will hear back-to-back two recordings of the vocal music of two great composers of the German baroque. Both musical compositions are called in German Schwanengesang or "Swan Song." At least one of the recordings is a world premiere on disc. Der Schwanengesang by Heinrich Schuetz (1585-1672) finds its official world premiere on a single Celestial Harmonies CD. This series of motets is absolutely the last thing Schuetz ever wrote and it summarizes everything he strove for in his long musical career. To be precise, the Schuetz Schwanengesang is a setting for two choirs with organ accompaniment of Psalm 119, the longest one in the Psalter, Psalm 100 and the German language Magnificat. Roland Peelman directs The Song Company in tapings made at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in Australia in 1996. Schuetz’s Schwanengesang is a monument of seventeenth century Lutheran music literature
    As part of his many musical duties in the city of Hamburg George Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was called upon to compose funeral cantatas for five of the city’s mayors. The lengthy one he wrote in 1733 upon the death of Mayor Garlieb Sillem is also called Schwanengesang. The mayor himself wrote in advance his own funereal verse for Telemann to set to music. I presume the brand new cpo recording is a world premiere for the Telemann Schwanengesang cantata. Michael Schneider directs the period instrument ensemble La Stagione Frankfort, with eight singers.

Sunday March 26: Now for some remarkable but little known vocal music of the British Isles. Thomas Linley Junior (1756-78) has been called "The English Mozart." Born the same year as Wolfgang Amadeus, Linley the Younger was likewise a child prodigy. He was a prolific composer whose career was cut pitifully short – shorter than Mozart’s. He died at age 22 in a boating accident. The Song of Moses (1777) was one of Tom’s last and greatest works. It is also his single longest work in performance, lasting fully three quarters of an hour. Linley’s mini-oratorio (or should it be termed and ode?) ought to remind the listener strongly of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Linley’s choruses are monumentally grand in the Handelian manner. His solo airs and vocal duets are in a more progressive gallant or Mozartean style – or perhaps more properly in the style of his elder contemporary Johann Christian Bach, the "London Bach." Hyperion Records gave us The Song of Moses in a 1998 release that is paired on single silver disc with Linley’s anthem for chorus and orchestra Let God Arise (1773). His setting of verses from Psalm 68 compares favorably with anyone of Handel’s Chandos anthems. In both works Peter Holman directs the Parley of Instruments, playing on period instruments, and the Holst Singers.
    Next, music in praise of a Scottish holy man. St. Kentigern, a sixth century bishop and confessor, is credited with founding the city of Glasgow. Even as a child he was reputed to have performed miracles. The life of the saint is held-forth in a rhymed liturgical office for the Feast of St. Kentigern (January 13th), as found in a manuscript known as the Sprouston Breviary, dating from circa 1300. The manuscript contains the Latin text and music notation for antiphons and responsories, plus nine lections or reading from Kentigern’s official church biography. This fascinating example of Scottish medieval plainchant comes to us on a ASV compact disc. The Miracles of St. Kentigern. The Capella Nova, under Alan Tavbener’s direction, has adorned the plainsong at certain points with drones and octave singing to provide a little variety for the ear. Hand bells are heard at key moments in the holy office, and some recitations are accompanied by the jangling sounds of the clarach, the ancient Scottish metal-stringed harp.

Sunday April 2: In many parts of Catholic Europe the opera houses were shut down during Lent and Holy Week, when sacred oratorio held sway. Oratorio as a musical genre is Italian in origin, and the development of Italian oratorio paralleled that of the Italian baroque opera seria. One rather late-dating specimen of the Italian baroque oratorio is Nicola Porpora’s Il Gedeone, which was commissioned for performance during Holy Week of 1737 before the Imperial Court of the Hapsburgs in Vienna. The oratorio tells the story of Gideon, the righteous judge and military hero of the ancient Israelites. Porpora’s musical handling of the libretto is as emotional and dramatic as that for any opera seria. Il Gedeone was recorded in Vienna for release in 1999 through cop Records. Martin Haselboeck directs the Wiener Akademie period instrument ensemble and the Vokalensemble Nova, with countertenor Kai Wessel heard in the title role.

Sunday April 9: Lenten programming proceeds with a brand new Telarc recording of Antonin Dvorak’s setting of the Latin devotional poem Stabat Mater, which describes the emotional suffering of the Virgin Mary as she beholds the crucifixion of her son. Dvorak’s Stabat Mater (1880) is the longest musical treatment of the medieval text. Many other composers have been drawn to it. Affecting in its simplicity, sincerity and heartfelt compassion, the Stabat Mater is one of Dvorak’s most beautiful creations. The Telarc recording is, sadly, the last one America’s much esteemed choral director Robert Shaw ever made. He was scheduled to record A German Requiem of Brahms in a new English translation of its text he himself had made, but he died suddenly in January 1999 a few weeks before the taping. Telarc made the recording without him. They gave the job to Shaw’s colleague Craig Jessop, who conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I aired Telarc’s A German Requiem on CD on Sunday, February 27 of this year. Telarc has just issued the Dvorak Stabat Mater in a two-CD package. It was taped in Atlanta in late 1998, with Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and four vocal soloists.

Sunday April 16: On Palm Sunday of last year I offered you Krzysztof Penderecki’s Saint Luke Passion. This year you get to hear another large-scale liturgical work for Holy Week by Poland’s greatest twentieth-century composer. Utrenja (1970) is the morning service in the Old Slavonic Orthodox liturgy, the counterpoint to Matins and Lauds in the Roman Catholic rite. Penderecki’s work consists of settings of extracts form the service for the Saturday night and very early Sunday morning of Easter. The world premiere recording of Utrenja came out on two Philips LP"s. Andrezej Markowski directs the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic of Warsaw and the Pioneer Choir of boys, with five vocal soloists.
    In the Roman Catholic liturgy the Paschal Vigil for Holy Saturday actually begins on Good Friday evening in total in total darkness. In the prelude ritual called in Latin Officium Tenebrarum the candles in the church are ceremonially relighted as the service proceeds. The ancient Gregorian chants for The Office of Darkness in its first part or "nocturne" are sung by the Students’ Chamber Choir of Utrecht in Holland. The name of the record label for the recording of this music is perfectly apropos: Celestial Harmonies. The same 1977 recording includes polyphonic arrangements of the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah in three sections as composed by three different masters of renaissance polyphony: Pierre de la Rue, Johannes Gardano and Bernardus Yeart. The Lamentations, too, are traditionally sung in the course o the Vigil.

Sunday April 23: Over the years I have broadcast Edward Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (1900) several times at Easter, employing several different recordings. Sir Malcolm Sargeant recorded Gerontius three times during his long conducting career. He recorded the very first complete Gerontius for EMI in 1945, as originally impressed on twelve 78 rpm discs. That historic recording was heard on this program long ago on Easter Sunday, 1984 in a Turnabout LP reissue. One decade later Sargeant essayed Gerontius a second time for EMI with the same musical resources as in 1945: the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Huddersfield Choral Society. To be sure, the 1955 mono LP recording has different vocal soloists: tenor Richard Lewis as Gerontius, baritone John Cameron s the Priest and the Angel of the Agony and mezzo Marjorie Thomas as Gerontius’ guardian Angel. Sargeant made this choral work his own. His colleagues all considered him the best choral conductor in England, and he got the best out of the Liverpool Philharmonic, too. The 1955 Gerontius is in circulation again in CD transfer in EMI’s line of "Great Recording of the Century."
    Time remains after Sergeant’s number two Gerontius for an additional half-hour long Eastertide oratorio by Georg Philipp Telemann: Die Auferstehung or "The Resurrection" (1761). A work of Telemann’s old age, its remarkably progressive style could easily be labeled "pre-classical." The octogenarian master seems to have kept in touch with the latest musical trends. Other evidence to the contrary, I’m proclaiming the 1999 cpo recording of die Auferstehung to be a world premiere in disc. The score gets a thoroughly "period" interpretation from the Telemann Chamber Orchestra of Michaelstein and the Chamber Choir of Magdebury, Ludger Remy conducting.

Sunday April 30: Umberto Giordano’s Madame Sans-Gene ("Madame Carefree," 1915) is a product of the later stage of the verismo style in Italian opera. It premiered a the Met in New York City under Toscanini’s baton, and was favorably received. The story is taken from a play by the French author Victorien Sardou. Another one of Sardou’s plays inspired Puccini to write Tosca. "Madame Carefree" is an entertaining and lighthearted work, with many aspects of the French opera comique in it. Toscanini conducted it again in 1922 at La Scala and a La Scala production was mounted once more in 1967 to mark the centenary of Giordano’s birth. In 1999 it was both revived on stage and recorded live in performance at he Teatro Communale of Modena for Dynamic Records. Soprano Mirella Freni, a native of Modena, is heard as Caterina, the Alsatian washer-woman who becomes Duchess of Danzig as a result of the Napoleanic revolutionary upheaval in Europe. George Jellinek the famous opera authority and radio personality on WQXR New York has written a review of Madame Sans-Gene for Fanfare magazine (Nov/Dec ’99 issue). He says Freni’s voice is past its prime (a moot point), but Freni’s fans (and there are many) will find the new two-CD Dynamic release irresistible.
    With one exception, everything to be heard in this two month period of programming comes either from my personal collection of opera on disc, or from our station’s ever-growing library of classical music recordings. From My own collection I cite Linley’s Song of Moses, The Miracles of St. Kentigern and the 1955 Gerontius. Penderecki’s Utrenja was loaned for broadcast from the collection of Rob Meehan, former classics deejay at WWUH and a specialist in alternative music of the twentieth century.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2000

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