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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of March and April 2001

Sunday March 4: All the programming for the Sundays of Lent up to and including Easter Sunday will be music either intended for church services or with a religious theme.  Joseph and His Brethren (1744) is truly a forgotten masterwork of George Frideric Handel.  The oratorio was popular in Handel’s lifetime and the composer revived it regularly.  It contained mostly original music; for Joseph Handel did not borrow much from previous works, as he did so often in writing other oratorios.  Prejudice against Joseph seems to have arisen after Handel’s death, perhaps because of the libretto by the Reverend James Miller, who was certainly no great post.  Miller’s adaptation of the familiar Old Testament story may have been confusing to the English public in a later time.  More over, the title role was intended for a countertenor; this very high male voice was soon to pass out of fashion.  Handel was in the top of his creative form when crafting a score for Miller’s “sacred drama.”  Chandos records gave the world the first complete recording of Joseph and His Brethren in 1996.  Musical Heritage Society has reissued the three CD set.  Robert King directs the King’s Consort period instrument orchestra and the Choir of the King’s consort, augmented by the voices of the Choir of New College, Oxford.      

Sunday March 11: More music of the eighteenth century on this second Sunday in Lent.  William Boyce (1711-79) was arguably the greatest native English composer of the mid century.  Boyce wrote in the Handelian baroque style.  You have heard his serenata or mini-oratorio Solomon (1739) on Sunday, May 12, 1996.  Slightly shorter in length is his other important oratorio-type work David’s Lamentation Over Saul and Jonathan (1736), with a libretto based on verses taken from the first chapter of the Second Book of Samuel.  A revised version of this work, intended for performance in Dublin in 1744, has appeared on silver disc in ASV’s Gaudeamus series.  Graham Lea-Cox conducts the Hanover Band and the Choir of New College, Oxford with five vocal soloists.  The single ASV CD is filled out with additional tracks of David’s Lamentation in its 1736 London version, plus Boyce’s very attractive little Ode on St. Cecelia’s Day (1737-8?).
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) was one of the founders of the progressive “Neapolitan School” of composition.  Porpora traveled to London, and from 1733 to 1736 wrote operas there for the Opera of the Nobility, a company that rivaled Handel’s operatic enterprise, the Royal Academy.  Porpora’s music for the Roman Catholic Church is very much in the Neapolitan operatic vein.  During his sojourn in Venice Porpora composed a setting of the Latin hymn Salve Regina (1725).  Together with his settings of the Magnifacat (1741) and the psalm Laudate Pueir (1760), and very Handelian Ouverture Royale, Porpora’s splendid church music is finally done justice in a new Bongiovanni CD release.  Singers and instrumentalists from the city of Lucca in Italy are heard under the direction of Gianfranco Cosmi.

Sunday March 18: The most important of the opera composers on the Neapolitan School was the short-lived Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36), whose setting of the Latin devotional poem Stabat Mater was greatly admired all over Europe – so admired, in fact, that several other eighteenth century composers attempted to rework it.  Giovanni Paisiello’s reworking of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater dating from 1810, respects Pergolesi’s original score and adheres closely to it, but updates the instrumentation to suit an orchestra of Beethoven’s time.  Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) was a native of Naples and a prolific opera composer whose name was known throughout Europe.  Paisello’s Barber of Seville (1782) was a huge operatic hit, which continued to hold the stage until Rossini’s new version came along decades later.  The Paisiello/Pergolesi Stabat Mater was recorded last year for the Italian label Agora.  This world premiere on disc features Cosarara, an Italian period instrument ensemble.  Also world premieres on CD are several of Paisiello’s own church compositions: the Alleluis in Aeternum Sequenza for four vocal soloists, and three short settings of the Tantum Ergo for solo soprano.
Our focus now shifts from Naples to Rome.  Pietro-Pablo Bencini (1675-1755) is one of those once eminent but now forgotten church composers of the eighteenth century.  In his day Bencini was the composer of choice for all the major churches of the Eternal City.  His most important appointment was as maestro di cappella at the Cappella Guilia of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Bencini’s scores are preserved in the Vatican Apostolic Library.  In that archive is his Missa de Oliveria for four voices and continuo.   The contrapuntal lines of this music ought to remind you of Johann Sebastian Bach.  The ensemble A Sei Voci performs Bencini’s mass with plainchants appropriate for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Incorporated into the propers and ordinary of the mass are Bencini’s choral treatments of Assumpta es Maria and the Ave Maria.  Bernard Fabre-Garrus conducts.  An Astree compact disc release.

 Sunday March 25: On this fourth Sunday in Lent the scene switches to Central Europe and relatively modern times.  Ernst Pepping (1901-81) specialized in music for the German Lutheran Church.  Pepping turned out a substantial body of austere choral music.  His style is a throwback to the tradition of unaccompanied Lutheran hymnody of the Reformation.  Pepping’s Passion According to St. Matthew (1950) falls into the genre of the a cappella motet-Passion which flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The motet-Passion was displaced by the dramatic, instrumentally accompanied oratorio-Passions of the later baroque, the finest example of them being J.S. Bach’s St. Matthews Passion of 1729.  In our Chandos recording of Pepping’s Passion the Danish National Radio Choir is directed by Stefan Parkman. 
Next door, as it were, in post-World War Two communist Poland Henryk Gorecki (b.1933) was breaking all the rules of Soviet-imposed musical orthodoxy and getting away with it.  Gorecki’s earlier style was uncompromisingly serialist and avant-guarde, with plenty of shock value.  Time has taken some of the sharp edge off Goreck’s later music.   Perhaps you could call this his new post-communist style.  Gorecki dedicated his work for unaccompanied choir Miserere (1981) to the members of the Solidarity movement in a provincial Polish city.  Another a capella piece Totus Tuus (1987) was composed specially for the third return visit of the Polish pope John Paul II to his homeland.  The Cracow Choral Society recorded both these compositions in 1999 for Koch Classics. 

Sunday April 1: Swiss composer Frank Martin (189001974) was inspired to write his Passion oratorio Golgotha (1948) after viewing an exhibition in Geneva of copperplate engravings by Rembrandt which included one particularly arresting one of Christ’s crucifixion.  Martin put together his own libretto for Golgotha, drawing on the Passion narratives of the Evangelists and the writings of the Church Father St. Augustine.  The Wiener Singakademic and Concentus Vocalis teamed up to perform Golgotha at the Konzerthaus in Vienna at Eastertide of 1998.  These two choral groups were joined by the Vienna Youth Orchestra, conducted by Herbert Bock, Hannssler Classic issued the live recording on two CD’s the following year.  Sung in the original French language.
Tenebrae means “darkness” in Latin.  According to the ancient Roman Catholic rite, on the evenings of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, all but one of the lights in the sanctuary are extinguished one by one, while the church choir reflects upon Christ’s Passion in a series of sung Latin versicles and responsories.  These were all originally in plainchant, but during the Renaissance various Catholic composers adorned the components of the Tenebrae in polyphonic vocal arrangements.  Don Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1631) was an Italian nobleman who wrote many secular madrigals and some church music, particularly music for all the nocturnes of Tenebrae (1611).  In his time Gesualdo’s style was considered daring and eccentric.  Today we appreciate the emotional power of Gesualdo’s liturgical music, and revel in all its subtle nuances.  The last time I broadcast Gesualdo’s Responses for Tenebrae was on a Lenten Sunday in April, 1992.  ECM, the cool jazz label had then just issued Gesualdo’s Responses in its’ New Series classical line, featuring the Hilliard Ensemble.  Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort recorded the Responses for Good Friday in 1996.  Four years later Sony Classical finally brought out the Consort’s interpretation on a single silver disc.  

Sunday April 8: Believe it or not, I have never presented Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental St. Matthew Passion at Passion tide, but I have broadcast once before on Palm Sunday, 1987 the master’s other Passion – oratorio, the one according to St. John’s Gospel, which he composed shortly after he began his duties as Kantor in Leipzig in 1723.  Bach tinkered with the score of his St. John’s Passion over the years and never seemed to be to have been satisfied with it.  At least four different versions of it survive in manuscript.  The second version-Bach’s recension of 1725, has received anew recording through Dabringhaus and Grimm, in co production with Radio Deutsche Welle.  Peter Neumann directs the Cologne Chamber Choir and the Collegium Cartusianum period instrument ensemble, with five vocal soloists.
There will be time remaining to hear music for Russian Easter.  In his lifetime Alexander Archangelsky (184601924) was Russia’s leading choral director.  As a composer of music for the Russian Orthodox Church he was the first to employ women’s voices instead of boys – an innovation which was much copied.  Koch Classics in its Musica Sacra series has recently brought out Archangelsky’s rich choral arrangements of ten hymns or psalms for the Easter Vigil on a single CD.  The hymns were recorded back in 1991 in the Church of the Resurrection in Moscow by the choir of the Moscow Patriarcate. 

Sunday April 15: Due to the peculiarities of the Old Style calendar, Orthodox Christians sometime observe Easter on a different Sunday.  Russian Easter this year actually falls on the same Sunday as our Western Christian Easter.  Without a doubt Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers or All-Night Vigil (1915) is the greatest Russian Orthodox choral piece ever written.  Long ago, on the Sunday after Easter, 1985 I broadcast an almost liturgically complete recording incorporating his Easter Vigil music.  The BBC singers have essayed this music.  Their exclusive live recoding of the Rachmaninoff Vespers has appeared on a recent BBC Music CD issue.
Christ was resurrected on this Sunday, and thereafter He walked the earth, the Holy Scriptures testify, for fourth days, then ascended bodily into heaven.  Ascension Day is a major holy day in both the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom.  A wave of hysteria swept over the medieval European world as the year 999 turned into 1000 A.D.  The fear of an immanent Judgment Day oppressed Christians at the first millennium something like the treat of nuclear annihilation terrified people as the second millennium approached.  Only now in the year 2001, to be accurate by the calendar, has the new century and the new millennium begun.  With all that in mind I offer up to you 1000: A Mass for the End of Time, a captivating compilation of medieval chant and polyphony for the Ascension, as performed by the female vocal quartet Anonymous Four.  The fourteen selections are assembled into a plenary mass for the Feast of the Ascension, as drawn from several thousand-year-old music manuscripts.  A year 2000 Harmonia Mundi CD release.

Sunday April 22: With Lent and Easter over, lyric theater programming slips back into the mode of the secular and operatic.  The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island is Henry Purcell’s last lyric theater work.  It’s unclear how much of the incidental music for the 1695 London revival of Shakespeare’s Tempest is actually Purcell’s.  Musicologists have determined only one song from the score is his own with absolute certitude.  Some of the other musical numbers for the play could well have been written by his student John Weldon.  Purcell was at the height of his powers when he died at age 36.  In the music for The Tempest he enters a new, more Italinate dimension of his art, although the score as it has come down to us may have been revised by a later hand and some of the characteristic Purcellian dissonances may have been removed.  You will hear all the Tempest music, plus one of Purcell’s many other songs for the theater and the trumpet overture from the Indian Queen on a brand new Naxos CD.  Kevin Mallon directs the Toronto-based Aradia Baroque Ensemble.
The perfect compliment to Purcell’s music for a Shakespeare play is Thomas Linley, Jr’s Lyrical Ode on the Witches and Fairies of Shakespeare (1776).  The Shakespeare Ode is his longest and most ambitious composition.  He also wrote incidental numbers for a 1777 Drury Lane production of The Tempest.  Today we hear a Philips CD, the chorus and orchestra of the Musicians of the Globe, with eight vocal soloists, directed by Philip Pickett.  Linley’s music for The Tempest will follow, as it was included on a 1995 Hyperion recording.        

Sunday April 29: Iphegenie en Tauride (1779) is Gluck’s final “reform opera.”  In it he perfected all the elements of his concept of the neoclassical operatic tragedy: no secco recitative at all, well-integrated scenes with no set-piece da capo arias to impede the dramatic action, a high-minded treatment of human emotion and an noble subject drawn from classical myth-all that packaged, as it were, in a chaste, truly “classical” musical idiom.  Today’s presentation of this brand new Telarc recording of Gluck’s masterpiece scarcely sounds like the same opera as previously broadcast in 1992 on a Philips live recording.  Is that because it employs a crack period instrument ensemble, Boston Baroque, who truly brings this music to life?  The Telarc Iphegenie was taped at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA, in October of 1999, with Martin Pearlman leading the singers and players.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2001

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