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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of March & April 2006

Although this is the first Sunday in Lent, I set aside my usual prohibition on secular operatic music, because on this date "Sunday Afternoon at the Opera" does its bit for Marathon 2006, our station's annual intensive week of on-air fundraising. For a third year in a row I will put on mike my fundraising pal Tom Carling. We will be listening to and commenting upon a New Chandos recording of two of Sir Arthur Sullivan's early lyric theaterworks, Cox and Box (1866) and Trial by Jury (1875). Richard Hickox leads the BBC National Orchestra of Whales. Cox and Box is of particular interest, since it is presented for the first time on disc in its original version.

We return on this the second Sunday in Lent to programming appropriate for the penitential season. Juan Garcia de Salazar (1639-1710) was one of several topnotch church musicians circulating in posts among the cathedrals of Spain in the seventeenth century. Garcia de Salazar's output consisted entirely of sacred choral works. Sufficient amounts of his music have survived in manuscript to allow baroque music scholar Josep Cabré to reconstruct a Complete Vespers of Our Lady as it might have been heard in its proper Latin liturgical context for the period. Our recorded presentation offers sumptuous settings of the psalms and the Magnificat for choir and instruments, plus passages of plainchant and brief compositions for organ taken from Garcia de Salazar's colleague and contemporary Martin Garcia de Olagué. Josep Cabré leads the massed voices of the Capilla Penaflorida and the period instrumentalists of Ministriles de Marsias. A Naxos release on one very generously timed silver disc. We round out the afternoon's audio devotions with Marian motets in the older polyphonic style by a German musician, Thomas Stoltzer (c. 1480-1526). In the few years leading up to his accidental death by drowning he was in the service of the royal household of the King of Hungary. The former Hungarian state record label Hungaroton continues to bring to public attention the works of music masters native to or residing in their land. The six singers of Voces Aequales have recorded both Stoltzer's motets and his Missa Kyrie Summum.

In Europe in the old days (especially in Catholic Europe) the opera houses were shut down for the duration of Lent. In place of opera sacred oratorio held sway until after Easter. As a musical genre oratorio is essentially dramatized Bible stories; it isn't exactly staged as opera is, but it is sung along operatic lines. Bible stories continue to provide inspiration for lyric theater composers of our own time. British composer Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) wrote a little staged opera in three scenes based on the Old Testament Book of Ruth. He looked to Eric Crozier, co-founder with Benjamin Britten of both the English Opera Group and the Aldeburgh Festival, to prepare a suitable libretto from the scriptures. The story of Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi is important for Christians to ponder during Lent, since it marked the founding of the house of David, from whose lineage sprang Jesus the Christ. Berkeley's Ruth was first staged in London in 1956. The world premiere recording of Ruth had to wait until the next century, when it was given in two semi-staged performances in 2003 to celebrate the centenary of Sir Lennox Berkeley's birth. Richard Hickox conducts the City of London Sinfonia and the Joyful Company of Singers choral group. Mezzo Jean Rigby is Ruth, tenor Mark Tucker Boaz and Naomi is soprano Yvonne Kenny. A Chandos release.

In eighteenth century Italy sacred oratorio closely resembled secular opera seria. The Bohemian composer Josef Myslivecek (1737-81) spent a large part of his career in Italy writing Italian opera. His oratorio Abramo e Isaaco (1776) relates the Old Testament story of the patriarch Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac. This is arguably Myslivecek's finest operatic work. It was a big success first in Florence, then in productions all over Europe. Mozart took in a performance of it in Munich in 1777. Myslivecek's style is easily confused with that of the young Mozart. Manuscript copies of Myslivecek's score of Abramo e Isaaco were often attributed to Mozart or Haydn. The music is that good! We'll be listening to the second of two recordings Supraphon, the former Czechoslovak state record label, made of the famous oratorio by one of Bohemia's talented native sons. It was taped in Prague in 1991 with the Prague Sinfoneitta, the Kuhn Mixed Chorus and an all-Czech cast of vocal soloists. Bonton Classics has issued the same recording on two CD's. I last broadcast Abramo e Isaaco on this program on Sunday April 20, 1997.

Several times over the past twenty-odd years I have broadcast recordings of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Vespers/All Night Vigil (1915), an extremely long a cappella choral work meant to accompany the Russian Orthodox liturgy for the night before Easter. British composer Sir John Tavener (b. 1944) converted to Orthodoxy in 1977. His take on this sort of Eastern Christian vigil music is embodied in The Veil of the Temple, first performed overnight, June 27-28, 2003. Tavener's entire Veil compositions requires more than seven hours to perform. In 2004 he prepared a concert version that compacted all the eight "cycles" or sections of the work into a two-and-a-half hour timeframe. Veil was specifically intended to be heard in the historic twelfth century round Temple Church in London. The Temple Music Trust commissioned it. The two-CD RCA Red Seal recording of Veil of the Temple was excerpted from the live liturgy that took place in Temple Church. The massed forces of performers taking part in this holy rite reach an overwhelming sonic ecstasy in Tavener's eighth and final "cycle." The forces under Stephen Layton's direction include the renowned Choir of Temple Church, the Holst Singers, two vocal soloists, the brass ensemble of the English Chamber Orchestra, plus organ and several players of oriental instruments. Tibetan temple bells among these. Tavener has inserted Muslim mystical texts into the Christian scriptural proceedings. Gramophone magazine gave this recording an "Editor's Choice" citation for 2005. I agree, however, with Fanfare magazine's reviewer John Story, who writes, "I am not a huge fan of the Tavener's work in general, finding a certain disconnect between what he is striving for with what he actually achieves. Still one man's ecstasy is another man's tedium…" (Fanfare, Sept. /Oct., '05 issue). Decide for yourself by tuning in this afternoon.

I offer up two contrasting musical Passion settings for this Palm Sunday. First, The Crucifixion (1887) by Sir John Stainer (1840-1901). Stainer was the quintessential church musician. He crafted his oratorio especially for good amateur singers who would make up a well-trained parish church choir. Well over a century after its premiere there, The Crucifixion is still performed every Good Friday at St. Marylebone Parish Church in London. Some might think The Crucifixion is crude and sentimental, yet is has secured for itself a permanent niche in the English Choral repertoire. When I last broadcast Stainer's Victorian chestnut on Palm Sunday, April 8, 1998, you heard a Chandos CD, the recording made in All Saints' Church, Tooting in the Metro London area. The Crucifixion was recorded again at Guildford Cathedral in Surrey in June, 2004. Timothy Brown directs the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. A 2005 Naxos release on one silver disc. Stainer's Passion setting lasts a little over an hour in airplay, leaving sufficient time to present for a second time on this program the St. Luke Passion (1966) of Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933). This devotional work and his setting of the Stabat Mater (1962) made a lasting impression upon the avant garde of the international classical music scene. Penderecki's Passion owes a great deal of its form to Bach's St. Matthew Passion. One of the tone rows on which the work is based ends with the notes that spell out B-A-C-H in German notation. While it was commissioned by a German cathedral, Penderecki's Passion was first performed the same year as the thousand year anniversary of the introduction of Christianity into his native Poland. Interpolated into the Latin text of St. Luke's Gospel is his earlier Stabat Mater, plus verses from the Gospel according to St. John and other Roman Catholic texts for Holy Week. Our new recording of the St. Luke Passion was made in September, 2004 in Warsaw's Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, with the Warsaw Boy's Choir and five vocal soloists. Yet another Naxos release on a single silver disc.

Easter and Passover fall on the same day this year, so I will be presenting music to honor both the Christian and Jewish holidays, all of it by twentieth century American composers. Chief among these is Dave Brubeck (b. 1920), who wrote an Easter oratorio in three parts Beloved Son (1978) for the American Lutheran Women's Convention in Minneapolis. Brubeck scored it for full symphony orchestra and chorus, children's choir and baritone soloist, with Brubeck's own jazz quartet improvising on various melodic motifs. Employing the same big performance resources in Brubeck's Pange Lingua Variations (1983), commissioned by the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. This work uses both the Latin text of the Gregorian hymn for Holy Week and an English language adaptation by Brubeck's wife Iola. The Voice of the Holy Spirit (1985) tells the story of the Pentecost as recounted in the Book of Acts. The singers speak in "tongues of fire" a verse from the Gospel according to St. John in many languages, ancient and modern. All three of Brubeck's musical brain-children get a wonderful treatment from the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Voices, the London Oratory School Schola and baritone Alan Opie. Brubeck's old jazzman pal Russell Gloyd conducts. All three compositions were recorded together in one big four-day session at London's famous Abbey Road studio. A 2003 Telarc release under the title Classical Brubeck. Brubeck also wrote a lengthy sacred cantata based on Old Testament and Jewish liturgical texts. The Gates of Justice (1969) requires two vocal soloists and chorus, backed by the jazz instrumentalists of the Dave Brubeck Trio. In his cantata Brubeck wanted to reach out to both American Jews and Black Americans, ever mindful of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Gates of Justice was recorded in Baltimore, Maryland. The voices of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society support the soloists, who are cantor Alberto Mizrahi and African-American bass-baritone Kevin Deas. Naxos Records issued this in 2004 in its series "The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music." Also from the Milken Archive comes a CD of "Music for Prayer" in the Jewish tradition by American composer David Diamond, Morton Gould, Roy Harris and Douglas Moore. Listen in particular for Diamond's Ahava ("Brotherhood", 1954), featuring Theodore Bikel as the narrator.

I have always loved the mystical poetry of William Blake. That's why I'm delighted to present American composer William Bolcom's musical settings in the form of a song cycle or oratorio (?) of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Bolcom (b. 1938) was interested in these poems going back to 1955, when he was seventeen. He began making songs out of Blake's verse in 1956. Work went forward on and off up to 1982. His magnum opus premiered in Stuttgart, Germany in 1984. If you like Bernstein's Mass or Tippett's The Mask of Time you'll like Bolcom's style. His wife mezzo Joan Morris was among the vocal soloists who took part in what was presumably the world premiere recording of Songs for the Naxos label. It was made at Hill Auditorium on the campus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 2004. Bolcom's longtime friend, the distinguished Leonard Slatkin conducts the University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the University Musical Society. Naxos released Bolcom's Songs in its "American Classics" series. Almost 450 performers took part in the Ann Arbor live recorded concert. This is a song cycle on a grand, Mahlerian scale. There should be time remaining to sample another one of Naxos' "American Classics" issues: soprano Carole Farley interpreting songs of William Bolcom, with the composer at the piano.

The motion picture is the supreme art-form of modern times. By the 1920's talking pictures were supplanting opera and other live staged entertainments. Film now dominates the world of audiovisual art so completely that contemporary opera must find a way to accommodate itself to the silver screen. After having composed at least ten operas for the stage (many of which you've heard on this program in times past), Philip Glass (b. 1937) came up with a curious hybrid: an opera that can serve as a synchronized substitute soundtrack for an already existing movie. That movie is one of the all-time greatest art cinema flicks: Jean Cocteau's Le Belle et Le Bête ("Beauty and the Beast", 1946). Glass' "Opera for Ensemble and Film" can stand on its own as a theatrical production. It witnessed its world premiere in Sicily in 1994 and American premiere shortly thereafter at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The world premiere recording was subsequently made at The Looking Glass Studio in New York City, with the composer playing keyboards in the seven-member Philip Glass Ensemble. These instrumentalists are augmented by a chamber orchestra and seven vocal soloists, taking the seven major acting rôles in the film. A 1995 Nonesuch release on two CD's. If you have Cocteau's celluloid masterpiece on videocassette or DVD, why not tune into this radio show and watch the movie simultaneously? Just turn down the volume on George Auric's original soundtrack and start the action as soon as Glass' overture music ends. I'll tell when to hit the pause button at moments appropriate for radio broadcast. Stay tuned for a charming German language Singspiel. The genre of the singing play with spoken dialog was popular in Central Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mozart's "The Magic Flute" is the greatest example. Germany's most famous poet of the era, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote the libretto for a Singspiel that several composers of his day set to music. Mozart wrote music for Veilchen, "The Violet" one of the song lyrics in Goethe's wordbook for Erwin und Elmire (1774, revised 1787). Swiss German composer Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) took up Goethe's libretto for his own Erwin und Elmire, his first opera, first staged in Zurich in 1916. In an hour's span it sets forth the story of boy who thinks he has lost girl, but gets her back in the end. Erwin und Elmire received an excellent recorded treatment under conductor Howard Griffiths, who lead the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and four solo singers. Fanfare magazine's reviewer Adrian Corleonis says this 2004 cpo records release is "enthusiastically recommended." (Fanfare, Jul. /Aug. 2005 Issue)

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