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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera
Your "Lyric Theatre" program with Keith Brown
Programming Selections for the Months of September and October 2005

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 ©

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