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Mariss Jansons

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Classical iconoclast

February 20

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is back !

Classical iconoclast Welcome return of Shostakovich Lady Macbeth oif Mtsensk with Eva-Maria Westbroek and Christopher Ventris,  conducted by Mariss Jansons, available for a ,limited time on Opera Platform. All good stagings connect to the music and ideas in an opera but in this famous classic, from 2006,   Janson's conducting is so powerful that the physical settings seem to dissolve. In the abstraction so the music dominates. This production (Martin Kušej, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam)  won't please those think opera "must" be decorative, but it's an excellent example of how abstract musical ideas can find visual expression.  The violent staccato and dissonaces in Shostakovich's score come alive, bristling with tension and violence. In orchestral passages, the stage disappears in a thunderstorm of flashing bright lights against darkness, replicating the angularity in the score. You wouldn't want to be prone to seizures.  Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is not a decorative opera. It's a savage cry of protest, against the oppression of women, against closed minded communities, against repression of all types.   Staccato passages scream and low brasses and winds moan with baleful malevolence. Even while Katerina lives in comfort, chill winds from Siberia blow invisibly around her.  The Ismailov business is built on tight control. When then workers are left to their own devices, they break into mob violence.  The rape scene comes almost right at the beginning - violence against women symbolizes weakness, not strength. Real men don't need to beat up on others to get ahead. Shostakovich's testosterone thrusts are indictment, not glorification. These men are scum because they can't be en in any healthy way. In the libretto, it's clear that Sergei fancies Katerina because she stands up to bullying.  Trolls  aren't constructive : they need to destroy because they can't create.  Zinovy Borisovichs is impotent but he's a good man. He doesn't play games.  Hence  the bittersweet anti-romance in the cocky flute melodies round Sergey and the distorted bombast in  Boris Timofeyevich music.  Thus, too, the maddening, circular rhythms when the mob intrude, thrusting in every direction.  The solo violin, in contrast, suggests demented resolve.  And so  Boris dies in slow diminuendo.  The crowd scenes are meticulously choreographed, suggesting a kind of orchestrated turmoil.  Nothing much seems to happen in the long orchestral passage in the second act, but the music functions as an invisible backdrop. As we watch Jansons conduct, we can "hear" the events which are unfolding after Boris's death.   Katerina's still in a box, trapped in a frame without walls, yet there's strange beauty in the orchestration, suggesting wide open spaces, small, twinkling figures shining like starlight.  The staccato now trudges grimly forward.  The scene where Boris's ghost curses is shrouded in darkness, so we pay attention to the elusive violin melody. Although Westbroek and Ventris spend time groping each other in their undies, there's more desolation here than lust.  Zinovy lies dead, out of sight. Shostakovich's music for the police officers is brilliantly malevolent, underlining the anti-authoritarian message implicit in the opera.  When the police invade the wedding, Jansons conducts the multiple cross currents with clear definition. No partying for Sergey and Katerina.  We're off to Siberia. Now the whole cast are stripped to their undies. Everyone's exposed. If the chant of the chorus sounds vaguely like religious chant, there may well be a reason for that. Jansons's conducting was matched by the high standards of singing. Westbroek "owns" parts like this. When the Royal Opera House did Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 2004, Katarina Dalayman sang the part very well, but on balance I think Westbroek's hapless earthiness extends characterization. In London, Ventris exuded sexual magnetism, effectively stealing the show. Unfortunately in this Amsterdam production, filmed two years later, he's not called on to do much.  It's a wasted opportunity since he can do the role extremely well when called on.  Anatoli Kotsjerga sings Boris. Kušej's production isn't nearly as visual as Richard Jones's production for London.  Without Jansons, Westbroek and Ventris, I wonder how effective it would be  ? Yet it's been revived several times since 2006.  So it's nice to hear the original again. (It;s been on DVD for ages) ,

My Classical Notes

February 14

Paavo Jarvi Performs Richard Strauss

Paavo Järvi conducts Richard Strauss Strauss, R: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 Don Juan, Op. 20 Performed by the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi conducting. This is the first recording of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo, and its current chief conductor, Paavo Järvi. This new recording features two of the most popular tone poems by Richard Strauss, Ein Heldenleben and Don Juan. Recorded live in Suntory Hall, Tokya, which is one of the most renowned concert halls all over the world, with optimum DCD technology. Paavo Järvi and NHK SO will visit seven major cities in Europe in February and March 2017 – their first-ever European tour. Celebrating its 90th season, the NHK SO has the longest history among Japanese orchestras, with a rich and long tradition of performing the music of Richard Strauss. Here is a recording of “Ein Heldenleben”, as conducted by Mariss Jansons:

Classical iconoclast

February 1

Jansons, BRSO Philharmonie Paris : Mahler, Sommer, Rachmaninov

Live from the Philharmonie de Paris, in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez, Mariss Jansons conducts the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. in a programme they'll be touring in six cities in Europe in the next few weeks. Highlight, for me was Mahler Kindertotenlieder. Gerhild Romberger substituted at short notice for Waltraud Meier, but I was pleased, since Meier, though she's greatly loved, isn't quite what she was .In this repertoire, Romberger is superb, wiyh the sensitivity that marks a true recitalist. Kindertotenlieder deals with painful  emotions. Can there be any grief more difficult to deal with than the death of children?  The poet, Friedrich Rückert, lost two children in very short succession. He wrote from personal experience when he described looking downwards "auf die Stelle, näher nach der Schwelle, dort, wo würde dein lieb Gesichtchen sein. Wenn du freudenhelle trätest mit herein". Although the songs are so familiar that moment still knocks me out.  You don't make up details like that unless you've been there.  Yet what is striking about these songs is their sincerity.  No overblown pathos but instead an unselfconscious directness evident in the sparseness of the scoring. As a group, the five songs of Kindertotenlieder form a prototype symphony. Meaning is thus embedded into structure. The children will not develop into adults, the cycle will not grow, but remains suspended in miniature. A solo oboe sets the plaintive tone, colours added with utmost delicacy: glockenspiel, for example, at once child-like and fragile.  Kindertotenlieder is not theatrical.  Romberger's well-modulated delivery evokes the images of darkness and light which suffuse the cycle. She sings with an inwardness that imparts her words with grave grandeur.  The turbulence in the final song is disturbing: symphonies shouldn't end with scherzo-like violence!  But then, neither should children die. Note the piling up of sibilants : Saus, Braus, Haus. Then a kind of transcendence. "Von keinem Sturm erschrecket, von Gottes Hand bedecket."  Rounded tones, tenderness, voice and orchestra cradled in a kind of lullaby.   Before Kindertotenlieder, Jansons conducted Vladimir Sommer (1921-1997),  Antigone: Overture to the Tragedy of Sophocles (1957).  It's certainly turbulent, strings whirling like demented Furies, the winds screaming long planes of sound that shatter into frantic staccato, trumpets blazing forth.  It's dramatic, as the subject would suggest. Yet single instruments like clarinets and oboes fly above the storm, bassoon and muted trumpets leading into a quieter phase.  Purposeful blocks of sound, the call of a flute, later a small solo trumpet, muted.  An explosion of timpani, a single woodwind, then silence.  Since Sommer is new to me, I  checked out what I could,and was mightily impressed by his Vocal Symphony (1958) for contralto, speaker, choir and orchestra.   Jansons concluded with Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances (1940)  By turns, colourful, spooky, rich and nostalgic, this brought out some very fine playing from the BRSO. This performance is also available on BR Klassik. 

My Classical Notes

December 6

Yo Yo Ma Performs Strauss

This is an interesting collection of music, all conducted by Mariss Jansons. Have a look at the contents: Dvorak: Carnival Overture, Op. 92 Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 Elizondo: Danza Latinamericanas Massenet: Don Quichotte: Interlude No. 2 Strauss, R: Don Quixote, Op. 35 Performed by Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Wen Xiao Zheng (viola) and Anton Barakhovsky (violin), with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons conducting. As an artist in residence with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, American cellist Yo-Yo Ma had the opportunity to do what is perhaps the second thing he loves the most after playing: sharing his love of music with others. During his residency, he transformed himself from sensitive teacher to inimitable Bach interpreter to first cello of a major symphony orchestra. Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t fade away into the music, nor does he take a worshipful attitude towards the pieces he performs. From the moment he walks onto the stage, he exudes charisma that immediately confirms his exceptional status as the ‘best cellist in the world’. With its ten variations on a theme of knightly character for full orchestra, Richard Strauss’ tone poem ‘Don Quixote’ not only depicts the colorful adventures of Cervantes’ hero, but also functions as a virtuoso display of glorious solo melodies embedded in stunning orchestral passages. It is, in a way, a second Strauss cello concerto. Joining ‘the Don’ later in this program is a viola solo that personifies the faithful Sancho Panza and is played by Wen Xiao Zheng. Here is Yo Yo Ma, performing the second movement from Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote:

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