Thursday, March 28, 2013


OOPS The review didn't make it!!!! One test of genius in art is that one always finds something new. In the work of Leos Janacek, Karol Szymanowski and Wiltold Lutoslawski there is simply no end to discovery. All fought internal and external battles to get their music heard. Their intensity of feeling, sometimes disturbingly expressed, always moving and intellectually fascinating, marks them as three of the 20th century’s most enduring creators. Janacek’s violin sonata was written at the same time as the three “Myths” of Szymanowski – in 1914. The Moravian Janacek, was 60, the Szymanowski, a Pole, was 36. Janacek was obsessed with the First World War, the dreamy esthete Szymanowski, was living with his partner, the great violinist Paul Kochanski, escaping into a world of edgy soaring, erotic fantasies. Janacek finalized his sonata in 1921, achieving a tempestuous and tender work. Its violent first movement alternates lyric lines and angry outbursts, building to a surprisingly reassuring D flat major triad. The second movement, called “Ballade” is one of the most gorgeous melodies from this composer, breathtakingly spun out and sustained, despite a violent episode. The third movement, marked “Allegretto”, is a scherzo with some tough writing in a folk style (Janacek was a great collector of folk music) but the finale, Adagio, has a rhapsodic feel, alternating soaring melodies with violent eruptions and an ambiguous, tragic end. Szymanowski’s decision to ‘come out’ affected his career well before his death in 1937, and it is only in the past thirty years that more people have become aware of his utterly singular mind. He treats three ancient Myths as the basis for a phenomenal demonstration of musical imagination. With Kochanski there to help, he was able to make practical his incredible coloristic imagination. His violin writing is original, flamboyant, subtle, bizarre, gorgeous – he plays fearlessly with harmonics, demands a vast array of techniques and takes crazy risks. Szymanowski. a virtuoso pianist, writes equally daunting and inventive accompaniments. There is simply nothing like this -- haunting, shocking, gorgeous. Lutoslawski (1913 – 1994) was one of the greatest 20th century composers. But his life was often in danger from reactionary Polish elements, The Nazis and then The Soviets. He had to hide much of his music for fear of reprisal. Subito (1992) was his last completed work. Like so many of his contemporaries he had gone through an rebellious phase rejecting romantic gestures, but as he aged, he came to embrace the full range of techniques in Western Music. Subito starts as fragments that come together as a refrain which occurs four times. Each time the refrain is followed by an ‘episode’ that uses material from the first refrain in surprising ways. Technically, the work is complex, yet its effect is hypnotic. Partita (1982) is an encyclopedia of compositional techniques, from improvisations (the work has two “Ad Libitum” movements, aleatoric, which means that crucial decisions are left up to the players) to a phenomenally planned and dense final movement, which even has a short, very moving homage to Szymanowski. The central Largo is an incredible intellectual achievement, free of tonality, amazingly inventive in chords and the use of harmonics in the violin, yet utterly inevitable in effect, absorbing and deeply moving. Isabelle Faust takes a voluptuous, songful approach to these works but she is a true virtuosa. Her pianist, Ewa Kuplec, offers terrific support. Though there is formidable competition in Lutoslawski by Anne Sophie Mutter, his late muse, and Gideon Kremer and Martha Agerich offer a stinging account of the Janacek, Faust holds up very well and this is a wonderful program overall. This, I guess, is an opera oriented blog, so I am not going to put opera down. And yet this gave me more pleasure that any highlight recording I've ever known.

Can one really love opera?

Things got bass akward, the review is above. In looking around the opera 'net I am always shocked by how little the contributors know about music in general, how little they love music. On Opera-L for example there are few comments about the musical content of even the most familiar operas; and very few comments about the musical challenges singers must face even in the most beloved roles. How someone phrases, how they feel and use rhythm, how accurate they are in rendering what the composer wrote never seems to matter -- usually at all. Whether Milanov, for example, is really up to the grand phrases that are part of the middle Verdi style, phrases that start or end low in the voice and ascend to or descend from the heights do not figure in discussions of her -- according to them -- transcendent treatment of Leonora in Trovatore or Amelia in Ballo or Leonora in Forza. Of course perhaps it oughtn't to matter that her Italian is gobbledygook or that she is often very sharp. There is the same absence of understanding of whether Leontyne Price or Monserrat Caballe, heard most often by these people on glamorized studio recordings, can realize this musical rhetoric. Of course the use of dissonance as a device by singers to impart tension to the vocal line is never discussed. It is a commonplace that Maria Callas was "the greatest musician ever" so one after another of these people avers. But they are entirely ignorant or her compromises, they have no understanding of the musical challenges faced and solved by a truly remarkable musician-singer such as Jan De Gaetani, who often had to modify or invent a vocal technique to realize the immensely demanding new music she sang, or how Arleen Auger, delicately and sweetly, served the musical as well as the vocal demands of more conventional fare. One realizes that these 'opera experts' actually don't know anything. Their fetishes and fancies are triggered by non musical things from a timbre to received opinions by their equally ignorant friends to simple philistinism. Does Verdi have a chance against such insensitivity? No wonder he was regarded simply as an organ grinder composer. I've never seen anyone on these groups talk about how someone like Riccardo Muti shapes phrases into units of great beauty and tremendous effectiveness, even without star singers, and how the operas still work. Few of the tiny number of 'professional reviewers' still left are any better. I had a lot of training as a musician; that doesn't mean I was or am talented but at least I can hear. I understand how difficult it is to get it right, to really express powerfully within the music without the cheap tricks from omitted and simplified phrases but immense unwritten high notes to barking and screaming, always described as 'dramatic', though the faking singers have less good ideas expressively than the composer. I also like a lot of non vocal music; sometimes I find even chamber music more moving and involving than opera. I love the relief from words, stupid words often enough and silly carrying on. It was fun recently to write about music I love that had no voices, that needed close attention to work (the highlight LP was something that sooner or later reared its head when what seemed a small army of opera -- queens? -- volunteered the records they loved. The pop selections mattered to them; often the least interesting music in an opera. This is a review of an HM CD devoted to the violin/piano music of Janacek, Szymanowski and Lutoslawski.


Doesn't EVERYONE blog??? Just think of the magnificent A.C Douglas, the most stupid, pretentious  preposterous self parody on the opera 'Net.... wait -- aren't there are a thousand others? That ignorant scum is on my mind today. This is an exchange that was censured by the Cato of Opera-L, a compendium of morons administered by the Rite Aid Medicated Wipe, one Robert Kosovosky, the Little Libraian who could (get on his belly and spread his spotty cheeks).

WC Douglas to me: <What you mean, of course, you bloviating, pompous little peacock, <" Meaning" long ago escaped with this scumbag's brains through his colostomy bag but this was my reply:

How  DARE you? I have never been called LITTLE in my life!!!!!!!!!!!!

As for the rest of your garbage, anybody who knows anything, knows you are a preposterous joke, the sort of foul smelling corpse that spouts dated, inaccurate cliches about your fetish, Mr. Wagner, who was less Wagnerian than you. You are like the other fools here whose onanism produces only matter best enclosed in an old Kleenex and flushed.

Your deaf, psychotic, inartistic excrement makes you an unfortunate sample of these kinds of lists. As is a huge roach that scatters when the lights come on, you're good to scare the squeamish and impress the peculiar; but worthless about anything else you touch on. Mr. Wagner was surely not a nice man, and liked worship, but the books about him in action at Bayreuth show a fine contempt for the tiny minds like yours, that worshiped with no understanding.

Back to Nibelheim, you noisy mental dwarf -- though as with Alberich and the Rhine Maidens -- it would be sad to miss the hideous comedy of your mental scrambling after beauties you've neither felt nor understood but somehow invested a meaningless life in, which you will never grasp.

As for the rest of your garbage, anybody who knows anything, knows you are a preposterous joke, the sort of foul smelling corpse that spouts dated, inaccurate cliches about your fetish, Mr. Wagner, who was less Wagnerian than you. You are like the other fools here whose onanism produces only matter best enclosed in an old Kleenex and flushed.

Your deaf, psychotic, inartistic excrement makes you an unfortunate sample of these kinds of lists. As is a huge roach that scatters when the lights come on, you're good to scare the squeamish and impress the peculiar; but worthless about anything else you touch on. Mr. Wagner was surely not a nice man, and liked worship, but the books about him in action at Bayreuth show a fine contempt for the tiny minds like yours, that worshiped with no understanding.

Back to Nibelheim, you noisy mental dwarf -- though as with Alberich and the Rhine Maidens -- it would be sad to miss the hideous comedy of your mental scrambling after beauties you've neither felt nor understood but somehow invested a meaningless life in, which you will never grasp.

The LARGE Bloviating Albert Innaurato (a pseudonym your sad Mrs. Claggart uses when in the mood.) 

Too much for Kosovksy, a delicate sensibility and so stupid that half the words above would escape him.

Oh, well, enough for one go through.

JC (Mrs)
I notice on the pukeazoid (sp?) Opera Smell the horrors are wiping poor Eleanor Steber with their stupidity, or using her as an excuse for their ludicrous feuds. It's not like there are heroes there to root for. Opera as music is foreign to all but a few. Aesthetic positions are parodies of what morons might dream when they, unconscious, see phantasms of insight in their tiny brains. But even as a list that mostly and for long periods of time celebrates singers, dead ones, it is preposterous, idiotic and insulting. I knew Steber when she was older and struggling, and saw her often, luckily for me, in her better years, though I wish I had been older to really savor those. She is far from the only person who taught me that artists are thrown away in America. But the memory at that list censored as it is by the idiot Kosovsky is of a late, isolated bad performance she gave, after her operatic career was essentially over. She did it to help the Met (and perhaps to try and remind Bing and the others that she still had plenty to offer) but it was a last minute substitution in a killer role she really wasn't prepared for. She gambled and lost. But she was a great, valiant artist. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This appeared on Parterre Box a while ago.

under a linden tree

new CD features the ten most gorgeous minutes recorded by a tenor in Wagner since World War II. It is Jonas Kaufmannsinging from Act Two ofSiegfried “Dass der mein Vater nicht ist… Du holdes Vöglein!” -- otherwise known as “The Forest Murmurs.” This fragment lies perfectly for him, in the very middle of his voice, with a brief G the highest note.  His tone is sumptuous and flows effortlessly with the glamour, distinctiveness and immediate recognizability that define a great “classical” singer. He is able to sing over a wide dynamic range from breathtaking softness, always full bodied, to a ripe but never heavy sound at fuller voice, and there is wonderful contrast throughout.
He uses, apparently spontaneously, a quick messa di voce (the tone is swelled and diminished) and is able to mirror the feelings in this selection by shifting subtly the weight and resonance of his sound. Nostalgia and longing are conveyed with virile sweetness. There is a touch of the heroic in the darkness of sound he summons and yet there is a hypnotic, youthful float throughout. At this point Siegfried is still a vulnerable boy, which Kaufmann conveys precisely. Word and tone balance are perfect: his pronunciation is a musical pleasure in itself and it gives his sound specificity–every moment is realized fully.
Donald Runnicles, the conductor, gives Kaufmann plenty of space. This is a very romantic approach to the music. One challenge in this selection especially at this rather slow tempo is that of line; young Siegfried, alone in the forest, is talking to himself, lost in memories and as yet unknown desires–he stops now and then. And yet the tenor must manage a full, complete journey through this music, despite the pauses, the changes, the rhythmic shifts, the sudden anger at the memory of Mime. Kaufmann is simply phenomenal in doing this–one is aware of him through the silences, an effect achieved through precise rhythm, a very sensitive blending to the sonority of solo instruments, phrases that lead the ear on through silences and orchestral commentary.
The winds of the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin are terrific, and the sudden smile in the tone as he fails to make music with a reed is irresistible. True,Siegfried Jerusalem and Rene Kollo do this selection very well on their records too, and both are wonderfully accompanied (Bernard Haitink does so well by Jerusalem that it becomes a highlight of that entire Ring). Yet neither can manage the beauty and specialness of tone that Kaufmann shows here, and, terrific as they both are, neither spins out this music so languorously.
An older Wolfgang Windgassen does this stretch fairly well with Georg Solti, helped by Decca/John Culshaw’s electrical magic–though neither he nor the conductor has the rhythmic firmness the section needs to live.  The tenor is better with the tender Kna of 1956Ludwig Suthaus and Wilhelm Furtwaenglertogether create genuine magic, though the tenor’s technique is one of shrewd compromises and the vicissitudes of the RAI orchestra are distracting.
One can also enjoy the heartier Hans Hopf under the wonderful Rudolf Kempeat Bayreuth (he’s tenser under Erich Leinsdorf in the Met broadcast). Another factor in favor of Windgassen and Hopf (both at Bayreuth) is that they are singing live and are miked in a “general” way. The one caveat I have about Kaufmann is that this is a spectacular sounding multi-microphone studio recording. In the album notes he praises the venue (the “old East Berlin radio studio”) but evidently this acoustic has been arranged to flatter all concerned. Still, comparing apples to apples, this is a stunning testament to Kaufmann’s remarkable talent.
To suggest that nothing else here is quite so memorable is not at all to damn this CD with faint praise. If Kaufmann has some limits, much here is beautifully done, and his sophistication and insight are always very impressive. A role he has actually sung is Walther in Die Meistersinger – it was a concert that was broadcast and a tape survives. Of course, back then Kaufmann had a brighter, lighter sound. Here he sings with more weight but it seems to me, more beauty as well. The selection, the short “Am stillen Herd” from act one is only a morsel but it is done with much wit and charm.
I love the way he toys with rhythm, especially in the phrase “wie einst der Lenz so lieblich lacht, und wie er bald wohl erwacht” – he deliberately emphasizes the appoggiaturas on “lacht” and “erwacht” making something special of the last, a high E (dotted quarter), falling into the D below, a dotted eighth with a fermata over it–spinning his tone gorgeously from the higher to lower note. He also has a plausible trill at the end. This stretch too lies easily for him and the roundness of tone promises much if, as he promises in the notes, he actually sings the entire role again.
Kaufmann has not sung Tannhäuser and, in the liner notes, tells interviewerThomas Voigt that he had no intention of singing it–until he recorded “Inbrunst im Herzen.” He has a lot of competition here and in general there isn’t the wildness of Windgassen in the Bayreuth recording (who can forget his scream at “Da ekelte mich der holde Sang?”) or the heartbroken, exhausted intensity of Ramon Vinay,also from Bayreuth, though he had a Southern accent (being from Chile?) Then there is Hopf again, a tough character bought low (better live than on the too closely miked EMI).
Kaufmann does not try for that kind of intensity or rage. He sings with meaningfully inflected if not always crystalline words, wonderful line and an alluring tone, more enticing than the competition–yes, that includes the very capable Kollo and Seiffert, and someone named Domingo who cooks up heartbreak alla Zarzuela in a language of his own devising. Kaufmann conveys tense urgency and a sense of shame to start but then comes up with a chilling, eerie tone as he quotes the Pope cruelly dismissing Tannhäuser. His coloring and timing of the phrase, “Wie dieser Stab in meiner Hand nie mehr sich schmückt mit frischem Grün, kann aus der Hölle heissen Brand” is unforgettable.
But Kaufmann has planned this reading to build to the invocation of Venus. As the line gets higher and grows more fervid he opens his tone thrillingly and soars through the blasphemous praise of the Goddess – it’s so stunning one is mighty disappointed that the excerpt ends so abruptly (the CD provides a Wolfram inMarkus Brück). So, the slow boil approach works very well, though it’s not crazy enough for my taste.
Rienzi’s Prayer is elegantly done; for one thing, he does the turn precisely and beautifully. If there isn’t quite the solidity of Lauritz Melchior, compared to more recent tenors Kaufmann is more than competitive.
Of all the roles represented on this disc he is best known as Lohengrin. A performance I saw in Munich (with the great Michaela Schuster as Ortrud) was unforgettable. Here he sings both verses of “In fernem Land.” He does well and yet there isn’t quite the sweet float at the beginning I remember live (a performance in the run is on tape and quite wonderful), and I noticed some obvious vowel modifications. In particular he does something odd with the high A on the “i” in “Ritter” in the line “sein Ritter ich–bin Lohengrin genannt” and the earlier, longer A on “Gral” is also a modified vowel. Returning to other selections one the disc, one notices now and then some of these vowel changes – in the Tannhäuser especially.
This reminds me of a story Kaufmann told an early interviewer about the American pedagogue who rescued him from being a comprimario with a piping high voice by changing the way he produced his sound. It sounds as though he studied the so-called Stanley technique developed in America by Douglas Stanley, which had a real vogue in Germany. Jerome LoMonaco, a tenor in German houses, taught it, and there is also an Italian version taught by Arturo Morlocchi, whose star pupil was Mario del Monaco.
Stanley promises that his technique, which involves lowering the larynx as far as it will go and applying a lot of breath pressure, over time will build formidable volume and a strong dark timbre in the middle and lower part of the voice. Many pedagogues dislike this technique and, to be sure, it has real traps; on the other hand, true believers argue that used responsibly and not rigidly it does indeed build volume and impact, increase stamina and usually does not interfere with high notes.
Oddly enough, in his conversation with the Thomas Voigt in the liner notes, Kaufmann refers admiringly to Franz Volker because of his “beautiful” singing inLohengrin. But Volker taught the Stanley Method, with a spoon shoved down the throat to be sure the larynx was as low as possible and the tongue didn’t ride up. I wonder about Kaufmann. The first time I heard him at the Met (Traviata!), his voice was small and light and did not project well. I had earlier heard him live in Zurich, in Königskinder >displaying a dazzling sexual charm and a lovely tone (it’s now on DVD), and very strong in Parsifal but his voice did not promise so much for a massive place like the Met. That obviously has changed. I don’t believe Kaufmann is “locked” into the Stanley method but some aspect of it may be how he developed the dark lower range and fuller sound that now distinguish his singing.
After that demonstration of digression on parade we can return to this CD. I admit I was not terribly impressed with Kaufmann’s Siegmund live; however, from a recording perspective he’s better sounding than most others on disc. He’s superior, certainly, to Peter Hoffmann in the New York Philharmonic first act, to Gary Lakes or Poul Elming, or the too light though attractive sounding Jerusalem, or Windgassen and Alberto Remedios for whom the role is too low, or the average Robert Schunk.  Yes, James King sounds more at ease in the lower tessitura but is a duller interpreter. It must perhaps be said that if you didn’t hear Jon Vickers in the huge Met, you have no idea how this music can sound on that immense scale, and so the smaller scope of Kaufmann’s Siegmund isn’t so apparent or relevant.  (On the Leinsdorf recording, Vickers sings wonderfully and you do get a sense of the sheer impact and heart of his singing.)
In Kaufmann’s performance of the monologue “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater” that starts this collection, the tenor does indeed produce a chocolatey, rich tone in the low tessitura of this stretch of the role. But I hear some of those vowel modifications, a lack of power in reserve, suggesting there is perhaps some contrivance involved in producing this dark tone for so long. In the notes, Kaufmann mentions the Melchior live recordings where “his calls of ‘Wälse’ are endlessly long and endlessly big.”  Predictably, the high point of this aria is the build to the G-flat and G, with Runnicles slowing down just a bit to let Kaufmann savor the highest note excitingly.
In the Wesendonck Lieder, Kaufmann floats with great beauty and sensitivity through “Der Engel” and “Stehe still!”—among the best selections on the CD. In “Im Treibhaus” I noticed that laryngeal shift. “Schmerzen” and a rather loud “Träume” are solid but unmemorable readings.  There’s a shift in acoustics for “Schmerzen,” where the voice doesn’t sound entirely settled.
However, despite my quibbles and quiddities, this is a wonderful, stimulating collection by a remarkable singer.