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Programming Selections for March / April 2007

SUNDAY MARCH 4TH: This is the Sunday when this program participates in Marathon 2007, our station's annual intensive week of on-air fundraising. I will be going on mike periodically over my allotted three-and-a-half-hour timeslot to urge you opera lovers to pledge your dollars to this show, which comes last in the week long lineup of classical music programming on WWUH. You faithful listeners have never failed in years past to help us meet or exceed our fundraising goal, so I thank you in advance for your generosity. Although Ash Wednesday has come and gone and this is already the second Sunday of the penitential period, I will keep the programming upbeat and fun to listen to, as a way of encouraging your listener participation in the Marathon. I reach way back to Sunday, August 9, 1984 for the rebroadcast today of a Gilbert and Sullivan rarity in recording as well as in staged production: The Grand Duke (1896), which was the last G & S collaboration. This operetta has been referred to as "the one that failed." It didn't fail exactly. It was mounted in a lavish production that pleased audiences, but it ran for only 123 performances, the shortest run of any of the works in the G & S canon and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company never revived it. Gilbert's plot is absurdly complicated (what probably did the show in), but Sullivan's music for The Grand Duke is as good as that of any of its more famous predecessors. The Grand Duke, or Statutory Duel was not professionally staged anywhere, but at last the D'Oyly Carte Company gave it in concert performance in 1975 at the Savoy Theatre as part of their Centenary Season. Decca/London released their recording of the concert, with Royston Nash conducting the Royal Philharmonia Orchestra. Talking with me on-air about The Grand Duke will be Tom Carling, who once again this year for the fourth year in a row has kindly consented to come on "Sunday Afternoon at the Opera" to share his musical expertise with the listening audience.. We will audition and comment upon recordings of other vocal music of the British Isles.

SUNDAY MARCH 11TH: In this Lenten season I always concentrate on programming music of a generally spiritual, devotional, or liturgical nature, looking towards special presentations in this genre for Palm Sunday, Easter, or Passover. During Lent opera houses in many parts of old Christian Europe were closed, and sacred oratorio prevailed in public performance. We keep with this tradition in presenting Antonin Dvordk's oratorio Saint Ludmila. A thousand years ago the pagan Czechs received Christian missionaries from the West, representing the Roman Catholic faith, and from the East, bringing with them Slavonic Orthodoxy. A Bohemian princess named Ludmila sided with the missionaries from the East. A power struggle took place within the royal house of Bohemia over the conversion of Ludmila to Orthodox Christianity. She was assassinated and soon came to be revered as a holy martyr. The cult of St. Ludmila served in later centuries as a rallying point for Czech nationalism. Her martyrdom was exactly the right subject for the leading nineteenth century Czech nationalist composer to set to music. Dvorak's Saint Ludmila premiered in Birmingham, England in 1886 with great success. Supraphon, the old Czechoslovak state record label, recorded this masterwork in 1965, featuring the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus with five native Czech-speaking vocal soloists. I last broadcast those Supraphon stereo LP's on Sunday, April 6, 1986.

SUNDAY MARCH 18TH: Something old and something new to listen to on the fourth Sunday in Lent. The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross have been an inspiration to many composers over the centuries. There is a body of devotional music employing those words. Scottish Catholic James MacMillan (b. 1959) was commissioned to provide settings of the Seven Last Words for a BBC Television series broadcast during Holy Week of 1994. He scored his settings for chorus and chamber orchestra. To the specific Seven Words in some musical episodes MacMillan added passages from liturgical texts for Holy Week in both English language and Latin. Writing for Fanfare magazine, reviewer John Story praises the 2005 Hyperion CD issue of MacMillan's work. "The performances and recording are superb," he says, "…the music will reward anyone who has been following this always-interesting composer development. (Fanfare, Jan/Feb, 2006 issue.) Stephen Layton directs the choral group Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia. Keep listening for two more of MacMillan's choral compositions with organ accompaniment. We go back in European history to the high Renaissance to sample some of the liturgical and devotional music of the Fanco-Flemish master Orlando di Lasso (1532-94). He cultivated an intricate polyphonic style so sensuous that at times it bordered on the bombastic. Not so, however, in the caste four-voice Missa pro Defunctis published in 1580. No organ or other instrumental backing to the voices was permitted in the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. The music was for voices alone, and only one voice to a part. Lasso kept close to the liturgical plainchant melodies in this mass setting. He was known to stray far a field from the old chants, and would weave secular tunes into compositions meant for the church. You get the purist vocal approach to Lasso's sacred music from the Hilliard Ensemble in their 1993 recording of this mass, released in 1998 through ECM in its "New Series." Again a Fanfare reviewer has words of praise. J.F. Weber compares it against the only previous recording, made in 1981 for Hyperron Records with the voices of the Pro Cantione Antiqua. Webber says, "This is undoubtedly the finest rendition I have ever heard." (Fanfare, Jan/Feb, 1999.) His praise applies equally to the companion piece on this disc, the four-voice Prophetiae Sibyllarum ("Prophesies of the Sibyls," 1578). The Sibyls were pagan prophetesses known throughout Graeco-Roman civilization. Renaissance scholars attributed certain anonymous lines of poetry to them. These cryptic Latin verses seem to foretell the coming of Jesus Christ. The Sibyls were popular figures in the art and literature of the age. Michelangelo depicted the female oracles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Lasso's music for the sibylline prophecies is a tortuous combination of rhetoric and chromaticism meant for the ears of the cognoscenti.

SUNDAY MARCH 25TH: The oratorios of George Frederic Handel always make for good listening during Lent. Many of them were first heard in London at this time of year. The Triumph of Time and Truth premiered at Covent Garden in March of 1757. It is both Handel's very last and very first work in this genre. With his eyesight failing, Handel decided it was easier to rework an Italian language oratorio he had composed long ago at the start of his career in 1707 at the behest of his onetime patron the Roman Cardinal Pamfili. It has been revived once before for Covent Garden Theater in 1737, with some revisions. Handel's longtime collaborator Thomas Morell translated the libretto of the 1737 version into English. The master borrowed a few more numbers from other previous vocal works to compliment the lyric allegory, which is a kind of moral debate between figures named Beauty, Deceit, Counsel (or Truth), Pleasure, and Time. In the end Truth wins out over Beauty. On Sunday, November 18, 2001 I programmed a then brand new OpusIII/Naïve CD release of Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, using Cardinal Pamfili's original book. Today you get to hear for a second time the 1982 Hyperion recording of The Triumph of Time and Truth. This was my very first broadcast in compact disc format on Sunday, November 1, 1987. Denis Darlow leads the London Handel Orchestra (playing instruments of the period) and the London Handel Choir, with five vocal soloists.

SUNDAY APRIL 1ST: If you liked my broadcast of John Tavener's The Veil of the Temple just one day over a year ago, you'll love hearing his Lament for Jerusalem this Palm Sunday. Tavener's musical modus operandi is the same here: simple elements in repetitive patterns or cycles leading to an overwhelming climax. The composer describes it as a mythical love song. He works from Christian, Judaic and Islamic text. Lament for Jerusalem was recorded in 2005 for Naxos Records with the Choir of London and Orchestra, which is a volunteer, charitable organization of professional singers and players in the Metro London area. They went on a musical mission of peace to the war-torn Holy Land in December of 2005, concretizing in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. The version of Lament they performed on their tour was the composer's reworking of his score especially for them. Jeremy Somerli conducts. Now for more music for Holy Week. Claudin Sermisy (c. 1490-1562) was a native of Paris, who through his enormous talent as a singer and composer came to preside over the Chappelle Royale of French king Francis I. He is better known today through his secular French chansons. He wrote a lot of them earlier in his career, but the bulk of his compositions were intended for the church. Among many Latin liturgical texts Sermisy set are the Lessons for Tenebrae (literally "darkness" in Latin), to be sung over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve. Today you'll hear the Lesson's for Easter Ever sung by the French vocal Ensemble Clement Janequin under the direction of Dominque Visse. They go on to sing other liturgical works of Sermisy, some of them, with a part for organ interpolated. Originally recorded in 1983, French Harmonia Mundi reintroduced this old item in their catalog in CD format in 2004.

SUNDAY APRIL 8TH: I have broadcast Sir Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (1900) at least three times before at Eastertide. With its libretto taken from English Catholic Cardinal Newman's mystical poem about death and transfiguration, it is the obvious programming choice for the greatest of all Christian holy days. Every important conductor has essayed Gerontius. Farthest back in time, on Sunday, April 15, 1984, I broadcast the first complete recording of the work, made in 1945 with Sir Malcolm Sargeant on the podium. Then came Benjamin Britten's 1972 landmark interpretation (Sunday, April 19, 1992), followed by Sargeant's second monaural recording from 1958, broadcast in its EMI compact disc reincarnation (Sunday, April 23, 2000). Sir Colin Davis recorded Gerontius live in performance at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and vocal soloists mezzo Anne Sophie von Otter, tenor David Rendall, and bass Alistair Miles. The LSO was founded in 1904. Elgar himself became its principal conductor in 1911. This historic and world famous orchestra now has its own record label. LSO Live release Gerontius on two CD's in 2005.

SUNDAY APRIL 17TH: For a long spell through the later 1980's and well into the 1990's I broadcast a special series devoted to opera of the French baroque. That's partly because during that period so many fine, historically-informed interpretations of these long-neglected operas were coming out on silver disc. Today I present a blast from the French baroque past: Jean Marie Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus (1746) last broadcast on Sunday, May 12, 1991. If he had written more than one single specimen, Leclair's name might have become as famous in the history of French opera as that of his contemporary Jean Phillippe Rameau. He ought to have capitalized on the success of Scylla et Glaucus and written more works in the mould of the tragedie lyrique, the lyric theater art form Lully created a century earlier. The tragedie lyrique was coming into its final flowering in the 1740's. Jean Marie Leclair was a virtuoso violinist who composed mostly in the instrumental vein. His orchestrations for Scylla et Glaucus are even more colorful and adventurous than anything by Rameau. Dance sequences were always important in the tragedie lyrique. Scylla et Glaucus cannot be equaled in its instrumental dance pieces. Moreover, Leclair's recitative settings of French language verse are beyond compare. By the time of Rameau's death in 1767 the tragedie lyrique was passing out of fashion. In 1986 Opera of Lyon revived Scylla et Glaucus in a sumptuously costumed stage production in the city of Leclair's birth. Thereafter the audio part of this production was preserved for posterity in recording sessions in London. John Eliot Gardiner directed the Monteverdi Choir and the period instrument ensemble the English Baroque Soloists, plus an international cast of solo singers specializing in the eighteenth century singing style. A 1988 Erato release on three CD's.

SUNDAY APRIL 22ND: In the broad spectrum of my concept of lyric theater programming Canadian composer Barry Truax's Powers of Two (2006) falls into the category of "experimental compositions" of our own time. The power of "two" in the title has to do with the harmonious pairing of opposites: male/female or yin/yang. In the working out of this "electroacoustic opera" the principle translates into the strivings of twenty-first century people to pair off in love matches. Their electronic gadgets and video images of themselves all too often get in the way of establishing the relationships they desire. Into his electroacoustic meat grinder Truax throws references to diverse musical sources: the medieval "L'homme arme" tune, Monteverdi's Combattimento, Wagner's Liebestod, and Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. The libretto of Powers of Two is full of quotations from the lyric poetry of writers from all over the world. There are the more familiar passages in English language from Tennyson and Whitman, plus Rilke from German literature. Of particular interest are verses drawn from lesser known women writers of the past: Aphra Behn (1640-89), for instance, or Lady Montagu (1689-1762). Truax adds some of his own poetry. Powers of Two comes to us on two CD's from Cambridge Street Records of Burnaby, British Columbia.

SUNDAY APRIL 29TH: I rarely program any of the music dramas of Richard Wagner because most of them are so long in performance they won't fit into the opera timeslot. At 145 minutes of airplay on two CD's Das Rheingold (1869) is one that I can accommodate. I last broadcast Das Rheingold on Sunday, May 24, 1985, working from early stereo London Full Frequency Range Recording LP's. That legendary 1958 recording was reissued through Decca/London in 1997 in a boxed set of the four Ring cycle operas on silver disc. Georg Solti conducted the Vienna Philharmonic with a cast of singers who rank among the greatest operatic voices of the twentieth century. For example, the incomparable Wagnerite soprano Kirsten Flagstad is heard as Fricka. It took six years (1958-64) for Decca to commit to tape the entire tetralogy of operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen. Decca made audio history with this project. It was the first complete recording of the Ring, one with remarkably unified musical approach thanks to Solti, with general continuity of cast, orchestra and sound engineering. The state-of-the-art stereophonics of 1958 have been enhanced by the latest digital technology. Thanks to Rob Meehan for loaning me for broadcast his copy of Barry Truax's Powers of Two. As a record collector he specializes in the alternative musics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Handel's' The Triumph of Time and Truth and Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus come out of my own collection of opera on sliver disc. The Grand Duke I have on tape cassette. Everything else featured in this two-month period of programming is derived from our station's ever-growing library of classical music on CD.

WWUH Program Guide 2007 ©

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