Sunday November 6: Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (1962)
has gone over the air on this program twice before on the Sunday
of the Memorial Day weekend (Sundays May 27, 1990 and May 29, 1988).
But the memorial behind Britten's requiem has more to do with the
Armistice ending World War One in November than the inclusive American
holiday of commemoration that falls in the spring. So it's really
more apropos to broadcast Britten's War Requiem right now. This
has been called Britten's finest work. Britten was a pacifist. He
declined to fight in World War Two. The poetry of Wilfred Owen,
killed at the tender age of 25 just before the Armistice, served
as a constant reminder to Britten of horror and futility of war.
"All a poet can do is warn," so Wilfred Own wrote. Britten's settings
of his poems are a ghastly monumental musical warning to the world
of what war should have taught us but which it seems we still refuse
to learn. Owen's verse is interwoven with the Latin text of the
Mass of the Dead. Britten's War Requieum was recorded for Decca/London
shortly after its concert premier with the composer conducting.
He leads the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the London Bach
Choir, Melos Ensemble and Highgate School Choir, with some very
distinguished vocal soloists: Britten's lover tenor Peter Pears,
German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Russian soprano Galina
Vishnevskaya. You'll hear the CD reissue of that defining 1963 recorded
interpretation. Bob Walsh substitutes for me today.
Sunday November 13: Out of so many of Handel's great choral
works, the ode L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato (1740) remains
a personal favorite. I've broadcast it twice before on Sundays in
June of 1987 and '88. This pastoral ode in three parts was written
immediately before the immortal Messiah. While the ode reaches that
same level of the composer's genius, L'Allegro has been overlooked
in the Handel discography. Handel set the first two parts of the
ode to Milton's poem. The third, concluding part Il Moderato is
set to other verse that is not on the par of Milton's sublime "mood"
poems. Yet it was Charles Jennen's text throughout that Handel worked
from in composing the music for Messiah. Jennens' editing of Miltonian
verse for L'Allegro and Biblical verse for Messiah remains right
on the mark. The Erato CD recording of the ode I broadcast on Sunday,
June 26, 1988, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting, won highest
praise from Fanfare, America's leading journal of classical music
recordings. The budget label Naxos has recently been releasing lots
of find and frequently overlooked repertoire on silver disc. They
picked up a German taping of L'Allegro, made live in performance
at Eberbach monastery in 2002. Joachim Carlos Martini leads the
Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra and Junge Kantorei vocal ensemble.
Sunday November 20: This coming Thursday the 22nd is St.
Cecilla's Day in the old traditional Christian calendar. She's the
patron saint of music. In England in baroque times her feast day
was celebrated with special public music making. You've heard recordings
of the glorious musical odes for Saint Cecelia of Henry Purcell,
John Blow and George Frideric Handel in Novembers past on this show.
Today you get to hear the world premiere recording of the Ode for
St. Cecelia's Day 1739 by William Boyce (1711-79), who is arguably
England's greatest native composer of the eighteenth century next
to the German immigrant Handel. On Sunday, May 12, 1996, I presented
the Hyperion recording of Boyce's mini-oratorio Solomon (1742).
Then came the ASV recording of another large-scale choral work David's
Lamentation Over Soul and Jonathan (1736) on Sunday, March 11, 2001.
In the years following ASV released a series of Boyce CD's. In all
of them Graham Lea-Cox conducts the period instrument Hanover Band
and the Choir of New College Oxford. Keep listening for other English
choral works in praise of St. Cecelia and music's powers.
Sunday November 27: Native Americans were on hand at that
first Thanksgiving banquet. Why, they provided a large share of
the feast! I've taken the Native American angle in programming for
this the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. In 1898 British composer
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) set to music three long passages
from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha.
In Hiawatha Longfellow sought to preserve the mythic stories and
traditions of the Iroquois people of the Eastern Great Lakes region.
Best known of Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha trilogy is the first part,
Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. British audiences have always loved it.
All three of Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha cantatas were recorded
for the British label Argo with the musical resources of the Welsh
National Opera, Kenneth Alwyn conducting. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
was proud of his African roots. His father was a London-trained
black physician, originally from Sierra Leone on the West African
coast. In 1900 he served as a delegate to a Pan African Conference
in London. Coleridge-Taylor's fame as a black composer of genius
spread to this country. His visit to the United States in 1904 was
crowned with a three-day long musical festival in his honor, the
centerpiece of which was a performance of his illustrious Hiawatha.
This Argo recording is a personal favorite of mine, so I take special
pleasure in bringing it before you again. I last broadcast it on
Sunday, November 29, 1992.
Sunday December 4: Now for a bel canto rarity. To the best
of my knowledge Gaetano Donizetti's Il Furrioso All' Isola di San
Domingo (1833) has never been performed in this country, nor anywhere
else of late. The melodrama in two acts is as fine a piece of bel
canto writing to flow from his pen as any of the forty operas that
came before it. It was wildly successful at its premiere and played
a hundred opera houses all over Europe for a decade thereafter.
The unusual story and exotic setting of the opera no doubt contributed
to its popularity. Its title translates roughly "The Madman on the
Isle of San Dominga." A misunderstanding in love drives poor Cardenio
out of his mind. He flees to the Caribbean where he lives as a beachcomber
until his beloved Eleonora seeks him out and persuades to return
to return home with her across the Atlantic. In 973 Musical Heritage
Society released Il Furrioso on this side of the ocean on two vinyl
LP discs. The cast consists of mostly native Italian singers accompanied
by the Orchestra of the Teatro Verdi of Trieste, Bruno Campanella
conducting. Last broadcast on Sunday, October 23, 1988.
Sunday December 11: Choral music of the highest order for
this the third Sunday in Advent, the four-week long period of anticipation
of the birth of Jesus Christ. Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B
Minor was never performed in its entirety in his lifetime. The title
we know it by today was supplied in the nineteenth century. Bach
assembled the various sections of the Mass from things he had previously
written for different purposes and audiences over the course of
many years. Yet, amazingly, the whole work possesses a unified and
organic quality that gives it its monumentality. This is the final
statement of the master at the end of a long career of composing
from human voices, and instruments to accompany them. Broadcasting
the Mass in B Minor in December has practically become a tradition
on this program. Certainly many choral societies will be performing
it over the holiday season, and there are many fine recordings of
it to choose from. Take, for instance, the one very recently released
through the budget label Naxos. This one was co-produced by Deutschland
Radio and recorded in their broadcast auditorium in Cologne in November
of 2003. Baroque specialist Helmut Muller-Bruhl conducts the Cologne
Chamber Orchestra and Dresden Chamber Choir.
Sunday December 18: It's often said that the Christmas holiday
season belongs to the children. With that truism in mind I try to
program a "children's opera" on one of the Sundays in December.
Nicholas Flagetto's The Piper of Hamelin (1970) is just the thing
to delight the little ones. Flagello wrote it specifically for the
talented young performers of the Preparatory (pre-college) Division
of the Manhattan School of Music. Flagello's wife Dianne was director
of the Preparatory Division for fully a quarter of a century. The
Piper of Hamelin is perfectly and beautifully crafted for the abilities
of the young performers. The Piper is cast something like a Christ
figure in this operatic alteration of Robert Browning's 1849 tale.
The tragic ending of Browning's original story is given a happy
twist. Jonathan Strasser conducts the Manhattan School of Music
Prepatory Division. The narrator of the tale is none other than
Sesame Street's Bob McGrath. Seasonal music will follow.
Sunday December 25: This Christmas Sunday you get to hear
how a composer of the Romantic era reinterpreted the body of traditional
material associated with the Christmas story. Hector Berlioz looked
back with some nostalgia to the music of olden times in crafting
his "Sacred Trilogy" L'Enfance du Christ (1854). Berlioz did not,
however, slip into a pseudo-archaic musical style in telling his
tale of the babyhood of Jesus. He decided not to try to copy or
imitate the past. Rather, he wholly reinvented it through the bold
orchestral tone painting for which he had become famous. The choruses
of L'Enfance have particular charm. It's been a long time since
I last broadcast this work. On Sunday, December 29, 1991, I present
the Denon CD recording, with Eliahu Inbal leading the Radio Symphony
orchestra of Frankfort in a taping made for Hessian Radio of West
Germany in 1989. Hyperion Records released a recording of L'Enfance
in 1995. Conductor Matthew Best writes in the notes for this recording,
"I have always felt that this work benefits from a rather more operatic
treatment than it sometimes receives, and in performance I have
attempted to strip away the rather pious 'oratorio' approach in
favour of something more human and dramatic." Matthew Best directs
the Corydon Orchestra and Singers, and the boy choristers of St.
Paul's Cathedral London, with seven top-notch British vocal soloists.
Before anything else, I must thank my colleague Bob Walsh
for substituting for me on Sunday, November 6. The recording he's
presenting of Britten's War Requiem comes from the collection of
Rob Meehan, former classics deejay here at WWUH. Boyce's Ode for
St. Cecilia's Day and Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha come out of my
own collection of opera on silver disc. Everything else featured
in this two-month period of programming can be found in our station's
ever-growing collection of classical music on CD.
Finally, thanks must go to Kerry Atkins of Keystrokes by
Kerry for the electronic preparation of these notes.
WWUH: November/December 2005 Program Guide