Saturday, October 1, 2016
"Masterworks of French Modernism", the title of Daniele Gatti's concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Debussy La Mer, the key piece that opened new horizons, a magical work which, like the ocean keeps changing, revealing its depths in good performance. "God is in the detail" said Gatti in the interval interview, explaining how the arc of a performance is built upon many layers of detail. The term "Impressionism" is a tag that's stuck because it does describe the idea of creating a whole made up of tiny cells of pure colour. Impressionist paintings shocked viewers because they seemed to shine from within, because each stroke of paint seemed to glow with inner light. Now, perhaps The Shock of The New has worn off with millions of reproductions on coffee mugs, t shirts and so on. But in music, every good performance is new, an original recreation in its own right. Daniele Gatti is too good to do routine, and with an orchestra as good as the Berliner Philharmoniker, there was no way this performance would fail. There are so many brilliant La Mers around that we've all heard better, but also even more that are infinitely worse, and that's something to be glad about in a world where mediocrity is increasingly prized over excellence. Not a "coffee mug" performance by any means, even if the real revelations on this occasion came in Honegger and Dutilleux. Arthur Honegger's Symphony no 3 and Henri Dutilleux Métaboles have both been part of the Berlin Philharmonic's repertoire for some years. Simon Rattle conducted Métaboles as recently as 2013, with more or less the same musicians. Although much of Dutilleux's best work lies in miniatures and chamber pieces, Métaboles is scored for large orchestra. It flows over five movements each wiuth a distinctive personality : not variations but a series of developments, characterized by meticulous detail - a kind of refined embroidery. To borrow metaphors from painting, Pointillism, as opposed to Impressionism. Gatti's approach is softer grained than Rattle's, which may be more authentic but which might appeal to the already converted than to those coming new to the composer. There is a powerful Dutilleux lobby, so influential that it could demand chapters on Dutilleux in books about Messiaen. A bit petty, since both composers are very different indeed, and there's no need to play silly status games. Better to absorb the music on its own terms. A few years ago, I attended a Dutilleux recital at the Wigmore Hall (read more here). The composer, then aged 92, was present, enjoying himself hugely because Jan Pascal Tortelier's father was a close personal friend. Afterwards, my friend and I had a long dinner, leaving close to midnight. And who should we see but Henri Dutilleux, walking back to his hotel around the block. We waved. He beamed. Herbert Karajan conducted Honegger's Symphony no 3 (Symphonie Liturgique) with the Berliners in 1969, so long ago that it's pointless to compare. Whoever uploaded the performance to YT knew what they were doing by illustrating it with a drawing by George Rouault. Connections to painting again. No pretty pointillism for Rouault : his work is marked by ferocious dark outlines, defining the images within . The colours in his famous series of paintings of Christ seem to glow like stained glass even though they are oppressed by savage framework, which is utterly appropriate. Written in the winter of 1945/6, Honegger's piece deals explicitly with the horrors of war, and the challenges of a new era. The Dies Irae with its ferocious outcries, expresses anguish. Rouault's suffering Christ, depicted in sound. Honegger, being Swiss was a neutral in occupied France, but no less involved with what was going on around him. The second movement, De profundis clamavi, is a slow, but not peaceful meditation. What must we do that to counter violence and hate ? Slower, more amorphous figures, long lines that seem to float on a stream of mysterious detail. Gatti's unhurried attentiveness works well: we cannot afford to gloss over these complexities. This is the dark soul of the whole symphony. The movement concludes with intense outbursts from the brass, angular shapes against the horizontal keening in the strings. The last movement, Dona Nobis Pacem, doesn't, however, "grant us peace". Instead, it moves in the form of a solemn procession, lit with violent alarums from brass. One could visualize a cortege marching at night, the darkness broken by malevolent flames, whipped by turbulent winds. Obvious connections with Honegger's masterpiece Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher written in 1938, when Honegger was well aware of the threat posed by Hitler. Joan of Arc stands up to invaders, but is martyred. As the flames rise round her, though, she sees visions of saints and angels, and the voices who lead her return at last, taking her up to heaven. Peace, of a sort, is achieved but only through confronting evil and suffering : no avoidance, no prettying up. Honegger's Symphony no 3 isn't just a masterwork of modernism but a powerful document of how music can inspire the mind and soul. Please read my other work on Honegger and especially on Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher by following the links below and on the right.
Founder of two major Russian symphony orchestras, in Volgograd and Ulyanovsk, Edward Serov was a runner-up in the first Herbert von Karajan conducting competition. After a term as assistant to Yevgeny Mravinsky at the Leningrad Philharmonic, he became chief conductor of the city’s chamber orchestra, from 1974 to 1985. Abroad, Serov was music director in Odense, Denmark, in the early 1990s. He made more than 50 commercial recordings and particularly championed the music of Boris Tchaikovsky and Boris Tischenko.
The tenor loves the Beatles, gets cosy to Nat King Cole and would have loved to sing with von KarajanWhat was the first record or cd you bought? A tape of the Beatles. I was about 11 years old and think I eventually wore it out from playing it over and over again. I’m still a huge fan of the Beatles today and only wish I’d had the chance to see them perform live. Continue reading...
Peter Brem has retired from the first violins at 65 and written a book about the maestros he worked with – Karajan, Abbado, Rattle. Brem was an influential figure in the orchestra, chair of its media group from 1992 and the force behind its record deal with the rock group Scorpions, a project widely condemned by traditionalists but apparently a two-million-selling hit. The book is out now: Peter Brem. Ein Leben lang erste Geige. Rowohlt, 16.99 Euros
The remarkable Russian pianist has signed a book contract with Orion publishers for a memoirs that he has written together with the St Petersburg writer, Marina Evreison Arshinova. The book, to be published in 2017, covers his early years and development in the Soviet Union, his debuts with Karajan, Giulini, Levine and other conductors, and his slowly-discovered love for the Yiddish language. Karajan’s daughter said Kissin’s debut was the only time she saw her father weep.
We have been informed by friends who visited him this month that Neil Black, principal oboe of four London orchestras, has died at the age of 84. Neil was successively principal of the London Philharmonic, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, English Chamber Orchestra and the London Mozart Players. By our reckoning, he appeared on more big-label recordings than any other oboist. In Neil’s heyday, Neville Marriner made more records with the Academy than any other conductor-orchestra pairing except Karajan with Berlin, and the London Philharmonic were effectively house orchestra for EMI Classics. (c) Godfrey MacDomnic/Lebrecht Birmingham born, Neil played from 1948-51 in the newborn National Youth Orchestra before reading history at Oxford University. He never intended to be a professional musician, but by the late 1950s he was London’s go-to oboist, showered with engagements and concerto dates. Conductors of every type, modern or period, asked for him by name, and he never let them down. He was a quiet authority at the heart of London’s orchestras. photo (c) Anthony_Woodhouse, Neil Black with Itzhak Perlman, South Bank summer festival, 1980