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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 2002

Sunday March 3: According to the old traditional ecclesiastical calendar, the penitential season of Lent is already underway, so the programming for the next few weeks through Easter Sunday will focus on Christian devotional music, mostly choral and largely liturgical. The first of two offerings of eighteenth century French choral music this Sunday is a large scale setting of the holy office of the Mass for the Dead by a much- neglected composer of Belgian birth, Francoise Joseph Grossec (1734-1829). Gossec composed his Grande Messe des Morts in 1760. Its score was published twenty years later and it was performed publicly in 1789 in honor of the citizens of Paris who died in the storming of the Bastille. Gossec was a considerable symphonist with a flair for the dramatic. His approach to the Requiem Mass has all the high theatrical emotions of opera. The Grande Messe des Morts was recorded complete in 1998 in Lugano, Switzerland for release in 2001 on two Naxos compact discs.
Then we jump back two generations before Gossec's time to audition the Grande Motets Lorrains of Henry Desmarest (1661-1741), who is only now, more than two and a half centuries after his death, being fully recognized as one of the single most significant of French composers between Lully and Rameau. Desmarest wrote lyric tragedies and opera-ballets like those of Lully, but made an equally strong mark with his music for the church. The psalm settings he composed for the chapel of the Duke of Lorraine between 1707 and 1715 are particularly splendid. We'll hear three of them as interpreted by the singers and instrumentalists of Les Arts Florrissants under William Christie's direction. A year 2000 Erato release.
Remember, this Sunday your lyric theater program will be participating in Marathon 2002, our station annual week of intensive fundraising. You faithful listeners have never failed to help us meet or even exceed our fundraising goals with your monetary pledges in times past, so I thank you in advance for your generosity.

Sunday March 10: Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasion segun San Marcos ("St. Mark Passion") was commissioned by the Passion Project 2000, which invited four composers from different cultures to try their hand at a musical genre whose standard had been set by the Passion oratorios of Johann Sebastian Bach. The four new Passions were written in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Bach's death. They all received their premieres during the European Music Festival at Stuttgart, and were broadcast live in performance on TV and radio throughout Europe. Golijov's work is quite specifically a Latin American Passion. Osvaldo Golijov (b.1960) is the son of Russian immigrants. He lived first in Argentina, then Israel and finally in the US. He was a student of American composers George Crumb and Lucas Foss. In the Hannssler Classic CD release of Golijov's Passion, as recorded by Southwest German Radio, Maria Guinand conducts the instrumentalists of the Orquesta La Pasion and the Schola Cantorum of Caracas, Venezuela. Sung in Spanish.
Time remains this Sunday to acquaint you with the grand ceremonial choral music of Giovanni Rovetta (1596-1668), who succeeded the inestimable Claudio Monteverdi as Maestro di Capella of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. In 1638 the French ambassador to the Venetian Republic asked Rovetta to prepare Solemn Vespers in celebration of the birth of the future French King Louis XIV. Harmonia Mundi's audio presentation of Vespre Solenne is admittedly speculative. In reviewing this new CD for Fanfare (July/Aug, 2001), J.F. Weber writes, "Even if this program was not sung for the French ambassador, it would have been a worthy celebration. The singing and playing are marvelous.." Weber is praising Cantus Colin, the German ensemble directed by Konrad Junghaenel.

Sunday March 17: The International Bachakademie Stuttgart also chose a German composer, Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952) to be one of the four to write a new Passion setting for the Passion Project 2000. Rihm was a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen, but the personal style he developed sounds nothing like his mentor and compatriot, yet an awful lot like the Polish avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Rihm's Deus Passus is uncompromisingly desolate music. It really "presses the envelope," yet you cannot doubt its sincerity. Rihm says theses are "Fragments of a St. Luke Passion." Paul Celan's text for Deus Passus leaves out the clichés of the Gospel narrative, so giving the action of the Passion story an urgent immediacy. In Rihm's approach humanity suffers alongside God incarnate. For the festival premiere of Deus Passus Helmut Rilling conducted his own choral group, the Gachinger Kantorei and the Bach Collegium Stuttgart.
Compared with Wolfgang Rihm, the scared choral music of Scottish composer James MacMillian (b.1959) is much easier to take. Hyperion Records has put out on CD MacMillian's third setting of the Mass- the one he wrote especially for the choir of Westminster Cathedral to sing on the Feast of Corpus Christi in celebration of the "Glory of God" Millennium Year of Jubilee, 2000. For MacMillian's choral treatment the old Latin text of the Mass has been given a very free translation into English. Master of Music Martin Baker directs the Cathedral Choir.

Sunday March 24: I'm astounded to look through my listings of lyric theater programming going back to1982 and discover that I have never broadcast J.S. Bach's Saint Matthew Passion (1727). I make up for that omission this Palm Sunday with a recent Koch International Classics CD release that is specifically American in origin. American conductor Jeffrey Thomas directs the American Bach Soloists (a period instrument group) and the Paulist Boy Choristers of California. This "American Passion" was recorded live in performance at the 1996 Berkeley Festival.

Sunday March 31: While I have broadcast Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah (1846) once before on Easter Sunday, 1996, his earlier work in that genre, Paulus (1836) will be a first going over the air this Easter. It was Mendelssohn who revived the Bach St. Matthew Passion at Berlin in 1829, and in so doing began the general revival of J.S. Bach's music in modern times. In writing his own oratorios Mendelssohn was consciously trying to follow in the master's footsteps. Our brand new Chandos recording of Paulus was recorded live for BBC broadcast at St. David's Hall in Cardiff, Wales. The Welch have a long tradition of choral singing. Hickox leads the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
I have broadcast Giaocchino Rossinin's Petite Messe Solennelle (1863) a couple of times before around this season. Tongue in cheek, Rossini called this little composition "the last mortal sin of my old age," thinking, no doubt, of the collection of witty little piano pieces he called Sins of My Old Age. The "Petite" part of the title of Rossinin's Mass refers to its chamber music scale: a choir of twelve voices, accompanied by two pianos and a harmonium (i.e. a small reed organ). So many good recordings of choral music these days seems to originate in European radio productions. The one I chose for this Easter's program was co-produced by German Radio in May, 2000 for CD release under the Harmonia Mundi label. Marcus Creed conducts the Berlin Radio Chamber Choir, an assemblage of forty voices. The pianos and harmonium backing the singers are "period" instruments.
Sunday April 7: With the Easter holiday past, lyric theater programming turns toward more nearly operatic music, but not before the airing of one more sacred work in honor of one of the most famous of all Italian opera composers. Fanfare's Henry Fogel supplies the background information: "Four days after Rossini died in1868…Giuseppe Verdi wrote to (the music publisher) Tito Ricordi suggesting that 'Italy's most eminent composers should write a Requiem Mass to be performed on the anniversary of his death.' A committee was appointed, thirteen composers were assigned to write one section each (Verdi was given the honor or writing the final portion), and the work was finished in time to be performed in November, 1869. For a variety of organizational and political reasons, however, it was not performed at that time, nor indeed until 1988, under the baton of Helmut Rilling…" (Fanfare, Nov/Dec 2001). Indeed, Rilling's performance of Messa per Rossini in September, 1988 constituted its world premiere. It came at the end of that year's European Music Festival in Stuttgart, and was taped during broadcast by Southwest German Radio. Verdi's section of the composite Messe predictably sounds like his own, highly operatic Requiem of 1874. All the other Italian composers who took part wrote operas, although their contributions lie at a lower level of inspiration compared to Verdi's. Rilling makes the best possible case for all this music. He leads the choral outfit he founded, the Gachinger Kantorei, plus the Prague Philharmonic Chorus and Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart. A 2001 Hannssler Classic release.
Before the program concludes we'll be back squarely in the genre of opera. Gian Carlo Menotti (b.1911) could be considered America's most popular opera composer of the Twentieth century. After all, his Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) remains the single most frequently performed American opera in our country. Although it originally reached the stage in Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1937, and officially premiered at the Met in New York City a year later, Menotti's first opera Amelia al Ballo is really an Italian opera, as far as its libretto goes. This one-act opera buffa receives a thoroughly Italian recorded performance from the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Opera House in Milan, with Nino Sanzogno conducting an all-native Italian speaking cast. Angel Records released Amelia on LP in the US in early 1950's monaural sound.

Sunday April 14: This Sunday you get a big dose of baroque pomp and circumstance. Handel's glorious Coronation Anthems have been much recorded on their own. You'll get to hear them in their proper context as part of the coronation ceremony for King George II. Under the direction of Robert King, the King's Consort performs in order all the known musical selections heard in Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, 1727. Also on the program is music by William Child, Henry Purcell, Thomas Tallis, John Farmer, John Blow and Orlando Gibbons. The recording does not omit all those interspersed trumpet fanfares and the tolling of numerous church bells. Actually this new Hyperion release of the coronation music will sound better than what those assembled inside Westminster Cathedral heard that day. The musicians were un-rehearsed back then and the order of performance of Handel's anthems was rearranged by mistake, which greatly disappointed the organizers of the ceremony.
They had first intended William Croft, composer to both the Chapel Royal and Westminster Cathedral, to write the anthems that Handel ended up composing by default. Croft died suddenly in August of 1727 before he could take on the commission. Croft was the most well placed church musician in England. His choral works were also frequently sung in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. In 1993 Hyperion came out with a CD of Croft's setting of the Te Deum and Jubilate, his "Thanksgiving Anthem" and music for the Anglican burial service that incorporates passages from the Funeral Sentences by his illustrious predecessor Henry Purcell. John Scott leads the Parley of Instruments period instrument ensemble and the Choristers of St. Paul's for the CD William Croft at St. Paul's, which is volume 15 in Hyperions series The English Oepheus.

Sunday April 21: The artistic reputation of the Czech composer Adenek Fibich (1850-1900) had been squeezed almost to death between the giant figures of Smetana and Dvorak. Like both of them, Fibich wrote in the late romantic style and in the Czech national musical idiom. Unlike them, Fibich never achieved international fame but the Prague National Theater has retained all his lyric stage works in its repertoire. In his opera Sarka (1897) he seized upon the nationalist-mythological legend about a band of bellicose Amazons in Bohemia which Smetana before him had already used in his third symphonic poem Ma Vast and upon which Leos Janacek later based his own opera of the same name. Fibich's Sarka has always been well appreciated in his homeland. During the first half of the 20th century Sarka was performed 243 times, a record of frequency equaled only by Dvorak and Smetana's principle operatic works. We'll hear Sarka in a broadcast concert performance form the Vienna Konzerthaus, May 1998, as co-produced by Radio Austria. Sylvain Camberling conducts the Vienna Concert Chorus and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Vienna. The opera's cast is made up of all native Czech singers. An Orfeo CD release.

Sunday April 28: The appearance in print of Gluck's collected works in the 1960's helped stimulate a reinterest in the operas of the great reformer of the Italian Opera seria. On November 21, 1993 I presented a Sony Classical recording of Gluck's pioneering work Orfeo ed Eruidice in its premiere Vienna version of 1762 with Calzabigi's Italian language libretto. Frieder Bernius's interpretation for Sony was thoroughly historically informed. Then on Sunday, May 12, 1996 I aired the very first recording of the Vienna version, made in 1966 with Vaclav Neumann conducting - less historically accurate, but featuring the voice of alto Grace Bumbry, who made an excellent Orfeo. Now along Rene Jacob's traversal of the Vienna version, taped in January, 2001 for the Harmonia Mundi label of France. Jacobs is a singer himself (a countertenor), with a singer's understanding of the score, so as a conductor he has produced what is arguably the finest available essay of Gluck's masterpiece on disc. (Two of Fanfare Magazine's astute reviewers, Brain Robbins and James Camner, have praised this recording to the skies!) Jacobs could probably have sung the role of Orfeo himself, but he assigned the part (originally for male castrato) to a female singer Bernarda Fink. Jacobs leads the period instrumentalists of the Frieburg Baroque Orchestra.
Since Orfeo lasts less than an hour and a half in airplay, there's time remaining to hear another historically correct and entirely praiseworthy recording of a little gem of an opera by Mozart, his Singspiel Zaide (1780). This work is in the genre of the "Turkish Opera" popular in those days. Unlike Mozart's later and similar Abduction From the Seraglio, Zaide was left incomplete, and it never saw the stage. IN our recorded reconstruction Paul Goodwin directs the Academy of Ancient Music. Brian Robbins wrote of this particular Harmonia Mundi release, "While Zaide will obviously never occupy a place among the major Mozart operas, it remains a score of exceptional beauty that reveals rich rewards not only in its own right, but as a harbinger of things to come." (Fanfare Sept/Oct 1999).
All but four of the programmed recordings in this two-month time period are recent acquisitions to out ever-growing library of classical music on disc here at WWUH. Those four exceptions are all recent acquisitions to my own record library: the Grande Motets Lorrains of Desmarest, Menotti's Amelia al Ballo, the anthems of William Croft and Mozart's Zaide.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2002

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