dimanche 20 décembre 2009

Ghosts of the tempi past ...

How would composers react if they could hear their music performed today ? In music and in arts as a whole, progress exist and style evolve.

Examples are countless. Historical recordings at the beginning of the 20th century reveal that violonists abused of glissando, as much as singers of portamenti. Even more unusual for our 2010 ears, tempi fluctuate madly.

There exists some piano rolls made by Mahler of his music. They the first movement of the 5th Symphony with some natural tempi changes but the most surprising piece tempi-wise is the very fast 4th movement of the 4th Symphony. Comparison with the famous Mengelberg recording done in 1939 show the Dutch conductor radically slower than the composer. Maybe Sir Simon Rattle unusual treatment of the first bars (very slow then  huge sudden acceleration in the middle of the bar) would be considered as normal by the composer. Maybe he would find Pierre Boulez's objective treatment too clinical.

Two recent posts from prominent Classical Music writers seem to be inspired by mathematical considerations.On the blogophere, pianist Jeremy Denk, whom I heard in Paris as a superb partner to Joshua Bell's violin has a witty and sharp blog, "Thinking Denk" which included some not very serious maths on the evolving tempi of Brahms's second Piano Concerto.

The second comes curtousy of Alex Ross, authour of "the rest is noise" who referred in a recent entry on his blog to the work done by Eric Grunin on his site on the Eroica. I would recommend to spend some time on Eric's site which includes some fascinating comparison of tempi extremes in this work. May I remind that Beethoven's tempi are usually on the very fast side and are therefore rarely followed although there exists some famous die-hards litteralists.

As we speak, I am listening to the live performance of the Eroica with the Vienna Philharmonic under Thielemann. The performance is definitely a fascinating one which does justice to the scope and ambition of the work. Phrasing and orchestral colors are splendid but be warned: tempi fluctuation are here aplenty. While Beethoven may have approved them, they sound very self-conscious to my ears of today.

vendredi 18 décembre 2009

Is there enough chamber music on Radio ?

While studying at Harvard from 1990 to 1992, I listened regularly to WCRB, the local classical radio.It seems now via the Boston Globe that the station has a new owner and that there may be some changes, not always for the best.

Like most of its US counterparts, it had the following characteristics, most of the music played is made of "short" pieces, thus allowing for regular advertising and coverage of the local Orchestra was extensive with some real documents.

My biggest complaint though is that Orchestral and piano make all the repertory. Chamber music is underepresented and WCRB listeners may have even less of it.
    This should not be the case. technological innovations should be such that there should be no shortage of access to all forms of classical music on the waves or the Internet. This was the object of many posts from Bob Shingleton's On an overgrown path blog (which is the inspiration for this one).

    Bob is also a Radio producer on the innovative futureradio. We both had discussions suggesting that Internet and the radio represents a breakthrough opportunity for classical music as it enables to create a structure that takes advantage of Long Tail economics.

    It is easier for large orchestras to leverage their relations with existing radio channels to be heard. Who should takt the lead ? It should be halls that specialise on chamber music to ensure that this very important form of music can find a medium and reach the audiences it deserves.

    jeudi 17 décembre 2009

    Nothing to do with classical music ...

    ... but this is on the cover of a 50 Roupies business magazine ...

    samedi 12 décembre 2009

    Pollini plays Bach

    My latest musical purchase is Maurizo Pollini's reading of The first book of the Well-Tempered Klavier of Bach. This is the work for which I have to confess having felt more respect than love, either on record with Richter or on concert with Barenboim. This is not so with Pollini whom I heard play this work in Paris in June and whose reading exploits all the capabilities of the modern piano to color tones and voices, thereby linking this work with much of the pianistic litterature to come. While we are being definitely in the world of Bach, coloring, cantabile or pianistic writing makes us realise how the WTC could influence the likes of Beethoven in his late works, Schubert and Brahms.

    Piano versus cembalo is a classic question in Bach. The Classic criteria are usually on the instruments dynamics and the fact that all notes are "equal" at the cembalo. Pollini brings in many pieces a quasi orchestral view of the pieces. Listen to the prelude in B minor where the left hand is a Bass Continuo like while the two voices at the right hand could be a dialogue of woodwinds and strings.A cembalo would not bring this capability to architecture the pieces. Pollini has worked on choral baroque pieces in his many declinations of the Pollini Progetto and their influences are present through the recording.

    Beyond the sheer beauty of the playing,  it is not the first time that the Italian Pianist makes us aware of musical influences between composers. One vivid memory which I have from a concert in 2002 at the Cité de la musique was a first part where he played Stockhausen Klavierstucke, followed by Webern variations op 27 and then Brahms op 116. The similarity of density in the orchestral piano writing of both Stockhausen and Brahms were revealing. Better, it highlighted why the white-colored writing of Webern is so uniquely modern.

    vendredi 11 décembre 2009

    I found Magic ...

    No need to introduce Oscar Peterson who was one of most outstanding Jazz pianist of his time . The surprise here is Andre Prévin whom I have never been fully convinced by in the classics.

    Just go to the duet at 2 mn 50. It is just Pure Joy ...

    jeudi 10 décembre 2009

    Back to Mahler 3's closing pages

    During my last trip in the US, I discussed Mahler 3 with Frederic Kirshnit, one of NY Concertonet's correspondant. He was unhappy with Boulez's reading of this work and also commented that for this concert, Boulez had adhered to tradition and made a big crescendo to the closing pages.

    Back in 2003, I had raved on Boulez's recording in this work in Concertonet (Sorry in French ...) where the biggest surprise came in the treatment of the last pages of the work. Whereas all conductors have accustomed us to a huge crescendo to go to a rousing fff along the slowing down of tempo, the text is telling us a different story.

    It is one of these rare cases where Mahler just asks for a steady forte with the indication: "Nicht Abreisen".

    Here is the trumpet part
    and the Timpani's one:

    Notice both indications of a simple Forte. The other movements have clear FF and FFF  indications but not this one.


    To the best of my knowledge, only Boulez in his recording with the Vienna Philharmonic respects this straight forte. The effect is very different from the Tchaikowsky-esque Crescendo which never fails to bring the house down. It becomes thus a confident ending where the composer expressing a serenity in Nature. It would have been thus a strong transition to Mahler's original plan to complete the already huge work with what is the 4th mouvement of the 4th Symphony.

    A friend of mine has given me access to the Radio broadcast which Boulez and the VPO did before the recording and surprise, as said by Fred, Boulez indeed does the Crescendo and play a stong ff in the live performance.

    There are a few lessons from this:
    1. It pays to get Mahler's scores and go thhrough them while listening to the works and analyze them like a paragraph from the Talmud ...
    2. In the right works and the right hands, a record can still be a distinctive more risky artistic venture than a concert. As a consumate professional, Boulez would not chance losing the impact of the last pages of this work in the concert hall, he can take a different approach in the studio.
    3. Finally, it reminds us that feelings and expression in music are derived from technical choices, tempis, balances, phrasing, ..., not the other way round.
    Post-Scriptum: Just found on YouTube the rehearsal by Boulez of the end of the Symphony which F Kirshnit hear. Most conductors start the crescendo around the passage at 7:20. It is here more played FF than F but is more steady than the VPO Concert ...

      ... and Meanwhile in Zurich ...

      Concertonet's Zurich correspondant John Rhodes is part of the Gemischter Chor where he recently sang Francis Poulenc's Stabat Mater.

      A review in German is available here

      The Choir future works include Bruckner, Mozart and next season Janacek's Glagolitick Mass as well as Britten's War Requiem. John is no stranger to the last work and took part of the famous classic recording with the composer conducting, so he will graduate from the children chorus to the tenor one.

      jeudi 3 décembre 2009

      BPO out of the Easter Festival ??

      Courtesy of blogger intermezzo . The BPO / Rattle would not renew their association with the Easter Festival. Intermezzo quotes an article from Die welt which makes an interesting hypothesis that at this time Thielemann will be available with the Dresden.

      Which would  be actually quite logical ...

      Enclosed is a link to Concertonet on an article in French on my first encounter in concert of Thielemann.

      mardi 1 décembre 2009

      Minarets, Babies and Mozart

      A significant number of friends, family and colleagues have called me to ask what is happening in Switzerland after the infamous Sunday votation. A few comments beyond the obvious which is that it is not a step towards promoting better understanding between nations.
      1. Many Swiss are mad after what is felt by Lybia as plain blackmailing
      2. Geneva and the Canton de Vaud which were the 2 states who voted against the motion are definitely more open than the rest of Switzerland
      3. Everyone in Europe should start being honest about immigration. Natality in Europe is down and Europe cannot survive without a significant influx of outsiders.It is pretty late to start thinking of doing more babies.
      Now given that this is a musical blog, a quick reminder tensions existed event at the time of Mozart via a work where in the end reason and harmony prevailed... and of Kurt Moll's outstanding talent ...

      Jeunesses Musicales

      Have you seen : http://www.jmi.net/ ?

      dimanche 29 novembre 2009

      Quality versus Quantity

      If you look at this year Salzbourg Festival program, you will notice an unusual program in the "Guest Orchestra" serie: The World Orchestra for Peace under Gergiev. The surprise is not in the name of the orchestra not its choice as a conductor ... It is in the programme: Mahler 4th Symphony in the first part and Mahler 5th in the second one.

      It reflects the fact that on the one hand the technical challenges posed by Mahler's works are no longer a threat to orchestras. I remember when I was "younger" ... and Barenboim only played the 5th with the Orchestre de Paris as the only work in the evening. This was felt as normal and the musicians were definitely streched. But on the other hand, can musicians and audience take this much music. In 1999, Abbado came to Paris with the Berliner to play Mahler 3rd and prefaced it with "im Doppelete Tiefe", a Rite of Spring - like work by Rhim which let audience and musicians tired. Even the Berliners were exhausted at the end of Mahler's colossal 30 mn First mouvement.

      Has not Mahler's music became too familar ? It is classic Gergiev to pack so much music but is not this simply too much ?

      vendredi 27 novembre 2009

      Italian Taxis Drivers

      I am in Rome for a business conference and took yesterday a taxi. The driver was listening to Verdi's trovatore, singing along the tenor as he drove in a reckless way.

      His comments is that there was no real Verdian Tenor after Corelli.

      Only in Italy ...

      jeudi 26 novembre 2009

      We are live

      Welcome to this blog. Its purpose is to distinguish it from my day-work blog as well as my activity at Concertonetas a reviewer.

      It is also there to modestly contribute to the growing world of classical music bloggers, the most distinguished being http://www.overgrownpath.com/ and Alex Ross's unquiet thoughts.

      A few small elements of information: