Brilliant Beethoven journey with Stephen Hough, Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

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No matter how many times one has encountered the Beethoven piano concertos in the concert hall, a chance to hear all of them in the course of two consecutive evenings is of course irresistible. And having them played by a fabulous artist like Stephen Hough makes the journey even more thrilling affair.

For his dazzling endeavour, Hough has chosen Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra as his fellow travelers, based on experiences gained with a performance of the Concerto No. 1 some years back.

In conjunction with these concert performances, the concerto cycle is also recorded for a subsequent release on CD by Hyperion Records next year, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Employing modern instruments, with period trumpets and timpani added, Hough and Lintu had chosen to perform the concerti in Jonathan Del Mar’s critical edition, a marvellous case in point of editorial craftmanship at the highest lever.

The first evening opened with the Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major, Op. 19 (1787-89/1795), chronologically the earliest (surviving) Beethoven concerto, though the second one to be published. Both the autograph full score and the autograph solo part, written out for the concerto’s publication in 1801, survive.

However, the autograph orchestral score wasn’t available when the second edition of the score was prepared and printed, thus giving rise to several mistakes in the orchestral parts that have since come down to all subsequent editions until Del Mar went back to original sources for his new critical edition.

The Concerto in B flat Major is a formidable piece in transition. While being rooted in the Mozartian concerto tradition, those characteristically Beethovenian traits are already manifest themselves in the rhythms and dynamics, as well as in melodic contours.

Scored for flute, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, the concerto opens with an orchestral introduction paving the way for the solo piano to enter. With the ensuing dialogue, one was immediately struck by the level on communication between the soloist and the orchestra, manifesting itself throughout the movement.

Instead of Beethoven’s cadenza, written in 1809, Hough had chosen to play his own, most fabulous cadenza, an inspiring choice for both live performance and recording.

The Adagio opened with admirable warmth and clarity provided by Lintu and the orchestra. Again, the continuity of musical thought between the orchestra and the soloist was admirable, resulting in an enchantingly nuanced dialogue.

The finale rondo was pure musical joy, with marvellous rhythmic drive and wit, delivered in perfect unison by Hough and Lintu. A joyous affair, the Concerto in B flat set the Beethoven journey in formidably in motion.

Though separated by just a few years, there is a quantum leap in expression from the Concerto in B flat to the Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1800-3). Joined by clarinets, trumpets and timpani, the orchestral palette is augmented in colour and dynamics, resulting in sharper contrasts and more pronounced accents.

The same is true with the solo part, which employs hitherto unparalleled expression, engaged in dialogue within itself as well as with the orchestra.

In the case of the C minor concerto, autograph solo part is missing. As there are mere sketches of the piano part in the surviving orchestral score, the critical edition of the solo part relies on the materials for the first published edition form 1804, featuring Beethoven’s corrections.

The opening Allegro con brio is a wonderful drama of its own right, ravishingly realized by Hough and the orchestra. Admirably balanced by Lintu, the orchestra shone in exquisite colours, providing marvellous soundscape for Hough’s ever imaginative rendition of the solo part.

In the second movement, Largo, Hough delivered the opening with unique beauty and imagination, with Lintu and the orchestra providing their answer, once again, in perfect musical and emotional accordance. One of the many highlights of the evening, hearing the Largo in the profound silence of the sold-out hall was a ravishing experience.

With an equally worthy take on the finale Allegro, the Concerto in C minor was brought to its wonderful conclusion.

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On the second half of the evening, the Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 (1805-06) was heard. With the Fourth Concerto, autograph sources are sadly lost to us. Luckily, a copyist’s score with Beethoven’s corrections survive alongside the first published edition (1808), containing Beethoven’s revisions.

One of the finest creations by Beethoven, the Fourth Concerto opens with the solo piano, introducing the first subject, which is then developed in a most imaginative dialogue with the soloist and the orchestra. Again, one was struck by the multitude of virtues of the performance, one of the most imaginative in living memory.

The slow movement, Andante con moto, provides a condensed, yet emotionally fully charged contrast in mood and texture, with agitated strings and aching solo line engaged in intense dialogue. Hough and Lintu were masters of drama, providing the audience with a sense of tragedy par excellence.

In the finale rondo, Hough and the orchestra, with Lintu, unleashed a splendidly Beethovenian sonic flow, in all its jest, wit and upbeat energy. Joined by trumpets and timpani, the orchestra resounded with marvellous transparency and rhythmic clarity under Lintu, ever in accordance with Hough’s outstanding take of the solo part, resulting in a wonderful conclusion for the evening.

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An excellent adventure, the evening was a riveting celebration of Beethoven’s ever transforming genius, at the highest musical level. A case in point of excellent teamwork between soloist, conductor and orchestra. On disc, this will be one of the most eagerly-awaited new releases of the Beethoven year 2020.

 

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Hannu Lintu, conductor

Stephen Hough, piano

 

Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19 (1787-89/1795)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto No. 3 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 37 (1800-03)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto No. 4 in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 58 (1805-06)

 

Music Centre, Helsinki

22 May 2019, 7 pm

 

© Jari kallio

Mainokset

Composing is inherently chaotic – Interview with Thomas Adès

Thomas Ades - Credit Brian Voce

With the city blossoming in its full spring splendour, Thomas Adès has arrived in Leipzig to conduct the European premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2018), with its dedicatee, Kirill Gerstein as soloist. Following a morning rehearsal with the Gewandhausorchester, we sit down at the conductor’s dressing room for a chat, under the watchful eye of Mendelssohn’s bust over our heads.

”With the concerto, I was fascinated by the way a 19th century piece, I’m talking about a symphony or a sonata or whatever, has this way of seeming like a complete sphere, a sort of rounded emotional experience. It starts and something happens and it moves on… Suddenly I got technically interested in how that works, and why and what, and I thought that’s what I want to do.

The dialogue element of music can really be stronger expressed in a concerto, for obvious reasons. It’s actually fun for a composer. It’s not just one group of people talking to each other. It’s more obvious. From my point of view, I’m articulating this story, but it makes it clearer when you got a concerto.

With this one, I had many, many attempts at the opening and other bits of it. I had sketches for it, and I just kept going and worked my ways through. It is quite hard work, but you go on, and get to the end. Then I looked at the beginning and I was like ’that’s not how it goes’, because by that point, I’d gotten used to what I thought it was like. And I went back to the beginning and it wasn’t there.

All the work I had done six months before, becomes like a big lump of clay, like a sculptor has. And I go chip, chip, chip, basically removing things, and revealing the clear thing underneath. It is quite weird way to work, but I like it that way round, rather than have something clear and make it more complicated.

My stuff is often a result of, believe it or not, reducing and reducing, it’s not adding and adding. I did that with The Exterminating Angel as well. I wrote the whole thing with a big brush, to make sure I kinda see what’s going on, and then condense as much as possible. And it’s a bit I did with this one.

With the Finale of the Concerto, the big question was, is it going to be shot out of a cannon like the Ravel or something. Or is it going to have this moment where it implodes like a lot of other piano concertos do. And it took me a long time to see that it had to have that in.

It is so funny how these things become a thing of their own. You simply listen to the material like a doctor, take its pulse and diagnose it and give it the medicine. I’ve never thought of it this way before.”

For Adès, composing is about finding the right way to organize a musical chaos.

”I try to work in the morning. I have sort of a routine, that is increasingly important. When I was younger I just sort of threw myself at the wall just at any odd time of the day. But now I’m more consistent. I try to sit down and write the piece.

Composing can be so abstract, when you’re doing it. The material you’re organizing, which is what I am doing, is, in some ways inherently chaotic. It’s as chaotic as the air around us. You are taking lumps of that chaos and organizing it. You might decide where are the beats in this and so on, and it starts to form a thing from this cloud.

I make a reasonable amount of mess when I’m working. I like different versions. It’s quite good way to go with things, because then you can see more clearly. This is probably going to sound mad, but I do increasingly believe, gosh can this be true, that there’s a right version of the piece, a sort of master that exists outside of me somewhere, or inside of me, but it exists before I’ve written it down, and my job is to write it correctly.

And that’s a new thing I’ve come to feel a bit more. It is almost like trying to be a radio receive, though nobody is broadcasting this thing. In the old days, when I was younger, I had fun of deliberately playing with the dialer, and kind of distorting the transmission. And now I think, I could actually make the distorting a part of the piece as well. Why not include that too?

I don’t know what it is, but it is helpful to believe in this fantasy that there is correct version of it out there somewhere, at the X-Files. ”

And what if it is not there?

”I think of Schubert, and his unfinished pieces. They’re very fascinating. And I think of those pieces that there’s something in the DNA of the material that means it can’t be finished. Whereas Beethoven would just have bullied it, bang, bang, bang… Sometimes, just being a bully, being determined is just the thing.”

For Adès, hearing a new piece played for the first time is a special moment.

”When I’ve finished a piece, it goes off, for example to Kirill Gerstein, and he gets it, and starts playing me little videos of it. It is an amazing moment to hear it, it’s like, ’ah it’s real!’ I love that moment, it’s kind of a permanent Christmas. I’ve got rather addicted to that sensation. It is so exciting, as long as the music is exciting to me.”

As an active performer, both at the keyboard and on the podium, Adès is often involved in performances of his own music. Conducting orchestras was not, however, something he had planned to do in the first place. In fact, his conducting career started completely by accident.

”The first time I conducted anything, actually, was the premiere of my Chamber Symphony (1990) when I was nineteen. I think there was thirteen people in the audience or something. I thought it was going to be unconducted or was there somebody else to do it, I can’t remember, but anyway, somebody asked me to do it. And I did. It was very strange. After that I thought, well OK, this is fun. Then I did it a bit more in the Cambridge University Music Society.

I definitely never ever thought of myself as being a conductor of orchestras, going around and doing what I’m doing now. I never thought that was going to happen. But one thing lead to another, in the usual way.

There was this wonderful group called The Composers Ensemble in London, it was fantastic, run by a composer called John Woolrich. We would tour all over England. It could be just three players or five players or a little bit more, with little bits of conducting, and it was really nice. I wrote my piece Life Story (1993) for them.

I didn’t conduct my first opera (Powder Her Face, 1995) for the first time, but I did the recording. Still, at that time, I was definitely not thinking about I want a conducting career, in fact, almost the opposite. Then there was a brief period, when I somehow got involved with this agent type of person, who’d start putting in all this thing that ’you are going to do this concert with this orchestra, and do this and that now’. I actually had this sort of animal reaction against it, I think. I got ill, because I hated the whole thing and couldn’t understand it at all.

It’s settled down a bit now. I can’t imagine not performing, I would find it quite difficult and would probably get mad. I would become a headline, but in a wrong way. Increasingly, I like crossing over that bridge between composing and performing. I really enjoy the crossing over part.”

For any performance, rehearsals are an essential part of the process. With many orchestras, this means squeezing a lot of hard work into a relatively little amount of time.

”Every orchestra is so different, you never quite know what’s gonna happen. With my Concerto for Piano and Orchestra here at Gewandhaus, we actually didn’t use all the rehearsal time. There’s definitely what’s called truth universally acknowledged, you know the expression from Jane Austen, which means that it’s not true but that’s what everybody thinks, that German orchestras are slower to read. Everybody will say it all the time, and it’s definitely not true here, it’s quite not the case at all. Once they got the hang of how the music actually goes, it was incredibly quick to get it all together. You just have to know what you want to start with.

I suppose, that now I’m quite and animal of concerts and rehearsals as well, and I think I got a sense of how much is possible to achieve in a rehearsal. Surprisingly large amount is possible within that time. You’d be surprised how much you can do in an hour with a good orchestra, if you’ve written it well. I hope I’m getting better at this. If you write something for all the violins and it’s a total nightmare, they have to take some hours to learn it, that’s different, of course. But I think, if you thought about the practicalities and got it, then it should be all right. And it is boring if things are too perfect.

One often has to just make one simple general observation, and then everyone goes ’oh, right, yes’ and they understand something broader about it. It releases a kind of general way of thinking, that makes it all work better. You don’t have to think every little bit. Rehearsal is actually process to get everybody to breath and think in the same pulse and the same way. As long as there is a general, consorted movement, or whatever the word is, that’s what the rehearsal is for.”

For Adès the conductor, early experiences of playing in an orchestra provide some essential insight.

”I’ve only been playing in an orchestra myself before I was about twenty. I had to do it quite a lot back then. And I played the piano in Les noces with Simon Rattle. It was just very interesting experience to be on the end of his baton, and I thought, ’Ah, that’s how it works’. He really made you aware of what your role was.

It helps having a little idea of remembering what it is like if you are to be looking at the conductor, and reading the thing while you obviously don’t have a score and you might not know the music. It’s quite different. ”

Alongside his own music, Adès has conducted a wide repertoire of pieces by other composers. Recently, he did a programme in Helsinki with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, featuring Sibelius’ Tapiola (1926) alongside his own masterpiece, Totentanz (2013).

”You know, you have this idea, when you think, I’d love to do Tapiola, because it is my favourite thing, and because they’ll like it too.  And then you get there and you start to think, what am I doing? Coming to Helsinki and doing Tapiola with Paavo Berglund’s orchestra. Oh my God, I can’t believe it! But it was fun, and they were very nice about it. And there’s always someone there who may not have played it before. But that was thrilling to do it there. And they were kind enough to say that they want me to do Sibelius next time as well. So I must have done something right!

When conducting his own music, there is, obviously, interaction between Adès the conductor and Adès the composer.

”Usually it is just a marking that is an ambiguous one. Like every time someone’s written a mezzo piano, some people play it as piano some people play it as forte, and you have to sort of decide which one you really meant. And that happens all the time. And metronome marks, I really had a weird relationship with that, but now I’m a bit better, I think.

Still, I don’t think being a performer affects the material of my music, I really don’t. I mean, to the extent, I like it to sound clear and everything, but I don’t think so.

The experience from performing affects only in terms of increasingly thinking it’ll work better with a certain way of bowing, or if I make this a ¾ bar. There’s a few things like that I’ve got more aware of while I’m writing. It’s just professional stuff. Boring.”

Still, there are some old pieces, Adès the composer would like to revisit.

”I’m feeling like doing whole new director’s cut versions of some my pieces, particularly the ones even I don’t perform very much. I ought to look at them, and go back and rescue some of them. I think that would be really nice. I’d like to rescue the ones that are left behind, when I have time. Though, I don’t know when that’s going to be.”

This weekend, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel give the world premiere of Adès’ latest work, Inferno (2019) for orchestra.

”I just finished this ballet score I’ve been working quite hard. It was finished just in time, like hours before the pack started playing.

You know, I got this side, that sometimes I get involved with existing pieces The first one was Darknesse Visible (1992) by Dowland, and in my mind that’s is not a piece by me at all, I think it as a piece of me performing the Dowland as I’d like it to be performed. I would say, that’s not really composing. I mean it is, but it is not, really, it’s a different activity. I call it something else.

So, with this ballet, I felt like, it would be interesting to do some sort of a costume thing, with Liszt’s music. Sometimes it is pure Liszt, orchestrated by me, that’s one extreme. Sometimes it is pure me, completely made up by me, that’s the other extreme. And there’s all the bits in between, where it is almost like you would be performing a piece by Liszt and start doing a sort of fantasia or improvised cadenza, and turn it into something else. These are not obvious changes. They’re quite eerie, and I like this effect.

I’m just thinking, if you look at Pulcinella, it’s really all Pergolesi, in a way. But then there are bits where Stravinsky has folded things up. I suppose, he would have thought, what would be helpful now, in 1920, you know, a productive, creative thing to take. Something that we don’t have now. Like, if there’s still something left in the pan that you can use. So that’s a bit what I was doing with Inferno.

Stravinsky was closer in time to Pergolesi back then that we are to Liszt now. It’s a long way in terms of musical history, but I just thought that it would be quite interesting thing to do now.

Liszt is the composer of hell and demonic. There were a lot of very good visitors, like Berlioz, who is a fabulous co-principal hell visitor, but Liszt, he lived there. I thought, I should pay a visit myself, but I couldn’t. So, doing this ballet score will be a way to do it, and it will be fun. I’m quite pleased with it, actually. I like it!

The Los Angeles premiere will be done in concert version, with the ballet version following in July. The European premiere will be at The Royal Opera House in 2020.

”At Covent Garden, it will be the whole Dante thing. We will certainly do Paradise as well, but that’s different. That won’t be Liszt, it will be just me.”

As our talk goes on, we land on the age-old distinction between abstract music and program music.

”That’s very old fashioned idea. It always reminds me of those old textbooks when I was little. What is abstract music? It does not mean anything. I think there’s little bit of this sort of religious snobbery in it, because abstract music used to be contemplative music. And program music would be somehow not holy, secular. So there was a mistrust of music that says it is about something.

I find that boring attitude, in both directions. A great piece of descriptive music can have as much musical content and truth in it. I’m looking at Mendelssohn and thinking of The Hebrides. It is so amazing! And it is completely descriptive, but also as an abstract piece it is just so perfect and complete. You can have both, it is not one or the other.

In any Beethoven sonata, for example, there are characters, I’m sure, in his mind, masculine and feminine, heroic and domestic, it’s absolutely there. Very often you have little opera scenes, even moments where you can tell it’s not just a scene between a man and a woman, but it is on a stage, and it’s very spesific. I don’t mean it’s a particular one, but it might be. There are several pieces, which, I think, are based on bits of Shakespeare, quite closely. In Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 2, I think there’s a whole Tempest theme in it, I really believe it’s there. I’m convinced that it really is like Prospero and Miranda. I’m pretty sure because he was reading it around that time. For him, it would have been a constant dialogue, I don’t think he would have thought this is an abstract piece.

Then there’s that glorious moment, when a man runs on in the middle of the Finale of the Ninth Symphony, and suddenly it’s an opera. ’Freunde!’ Absolutely wild. I think it might be quite fun to have somebody to run on singing in Eroica too. I mean, why not? It might be a bit ridiculous, but obviously it is program music too. Of course it is! It’s not abstract, far from it. It is very literal.”

Speaking of Beethoven, later this month, Adès is completing his three-season cycle with the Britten Sinfonia, featuring the Beethoven symphonies alongside a selection of works by Gerald Barry.

”It was this wild idea, I wanted to do. I’ve done all these premieres of Gerald’s music, and I thought we’ve got to record them, though I never have time to record anything. And so we got thinking about how we could do this, and suddenly the idea was there. It was completely bananas! In the first year, nobody came at all, but who cares, it was fun. And it sort of built, so actually and they’re doing well now. I really enjoy doing the Beethoven. I won’t make a habit of it, but I’ve loved doing it and learned an awful lot. And doing Gerald’s older and newer work, it makes a lot of sense, I think, to do it. For me it makes sense. I think, now we’ve found a record company that will release it all as one thing, Barry and Beethoven together, and I’m really pleased about that.”

During the reign of hardcore modernism, one of the key taboos for a composer was thinking about the audience. How does Adès feel about his audiences?

”You mean, if they like it I must have got something wrong? I think it is hilarious! There’s a very funny American film about a composer who believes this, and does very angry avant-garde music. And there are two people in the audience, I think one of them is his brother, and one of them is his girlfriend, and then she starts laughing during the piece and then he starts shouting at her… it’s very funny.

It’s like with the rehearsals, there’s often a bit of a journey to go on to even understand what is in anyone else’s head at all. It’s like a teenager who goes ’you won’t understand’ and shuts the door, and thinks ’I’m much more interesting and special’. And actually all they need is someone to listen and talk clearly.

We are all weird and nuts and crazy and difficult and everything, so that’s fine. I’d put it this way: I don’t want to distort myself for anybody in either direction. So, the question of audience is ultimately, I think, a non-problem.”

© Jari Kallio

Photo © Brian Voce

 

Gardiner’s vigorous take on Semele with a superb cast in an enchanting one-off performance at Alexandra Palace Theatre

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Among Handel’s output, Semele (1743) can be viewed, somewhat, as sui generis. Subtitled as a ”dramatic oratorio in three acts”, Semele is, in fact, an opera in English. Instead of a fully-fledged staging, it was originally performed ”after the manner of an oratorio” upon its premiere in February 1744.

There were only six performances during Handel’s lifetime, and it took almost two centuries until Semele made its return to the repertoire, both on stage and in the concert hall.

Instead of customarily Biblical subject, Semele is based on a pre-existent libretto by William Congreve, which, in its turn, draws its subject from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The original libretto was substantially reworked into its Handelian guise, fusing elements of opera and oratorio together into one formidably dramatic whole.

Musically, Semele is one of Handel’s most intense and imaginative music theatre works. With its emotionally charged arias, eloquently contrapuntal choruses and colourful orchestral music, Semele is an unique achievement in the Handel oeuvre.

In this respect, Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s decision to return to Semele for the first time since the early eighties, was most welcome one. Only five performances, featuring the Monteverdi ensembles and a marvelous cast, were scheduled between 8 April and 9 May, to form a small spring tour.

Alongside performances in Paris, Barcelona, Milan and Rome, Gardiner and his forces appeared on their London home ground too, for a single performance at the newly-renovated Alexandra Palace Theatre, a marvellous North London venue requiring a bit of commuting. Despite its location outside the City, the house was practically sold out on Thursday evening.

With Gardiner, Semele was presented in a semi-staged guise, well suited for both dramatic and musical purposes. While a critical version of the score still awaits for its publication as a part of the Halle Handel Edition, a tailor-made edition for these performances was provided by the Bärenreiter Verlag.

The libretto of Semele weaves a passionate story involving deities and humans, all caught in a web of complicated relationships and adultery. The opera opens with Athamas’ and Semele’s wedding ceremony, interrupted by Jupiter. Summoned by Semele, who is secretly in love with the thunder-god, Jupiter appears in the shape of a giant eagle and carries Semele away to a celestial abode. During the aftermath of this tempestuous intervention, Ino, Semele’s sister, confesses her love to Athamas.

The storyline of the first act provided Handel with a musical inspiration par excellence. Following the overture, we hear astounding choruses and evocative solo numbers, depicting, in their turn, a nuptial ceremony, a thunderstorm, and a vision of Semele, transported into Jupiter’s palace.

In the second act, Juno, angered by her husband’s adultery sends her herald, Iris, on a quest of finding the abode of Jupiter and Semele. Once the palace is discovered, Juno starts plotting her vengeance.

In the meanwhile, Semele and Jupiter, appearing in his human form, enjoy their mutual love and passion. Despite her blissful state, Semele yearns for immortality, to Jupiter’s concern. In order to soothe her spirit, Jupiter summons Ino to keep Semele company. The second act ends in enraptured music, as Semele and Ino, join with the chorus of nymphs and swains. Here, Handel writes some of his most sensual music to accompany the joys and passions manifested in this otherworldly realm.

The dramatic momentum reaches its zenith in the third act, a panoply of vengeance, comedy, terror and tragedy, leading to a soothing resolution. Juno lures Somnus, god of sleep, to her aid, promising him his favourite nymph, Pasithea. With negotiations turning into a brief act of comedy, Handel entertains the listener with ravishing musical interaction between Juno and Somnus.

With Somnus’ magical rod, Juno casts the spell of sleep upon the guardians of Jupiter’s realm, and assumes the form of Ino. She then joins Semele, advising her to persuade Jupiter to grant her any wish she desires and to appear to her in his true undisguised form.

Following Juno’s advice, Semele refuses her sexual favours to Jupiter, until he is forced to swear an irrevocable vow to grant her what she desires. Only when Jupiter appears in his hue of lightning and thunder, does Semele realize her folly. Lamenting, she is consumed by flames.

Once again, Handel’s imagination is in full bloom, as he sets the burning desires, both figurative and literal, into passionate music of yearning, love, horror and, eventually, sorrow. Yet, the this is not the end of the opera.

Brought safely back to Earth, Ino is wedded to Athamas, as commanded by Jupiter. In the midst of the joy reborn, Apollo appears, with a prophesy of the birth of Bacchus, rising from the ashes of Semele. A god of wine and the unborn child of Semele and Jupiter, Bacchus will bring forth a delight more mighty than love. The opera ends in a joint celebration.

Performed with vigour and lively spirit under Gardiner, Semele was a profound delight. The English Baroque Soloists tackled Handel’s orchestral colour with riveting musicality, while the outstanding members of the Monteverdi choir were, once again, on the very top of their game, resulting in excellent dramatic energy, clad in dexterous and transparent counterpoint.

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Among the excellent cast, Louise Alder’s Semele and Lucile Richardot’s Juno/Ino were the two brightest stars. Alder’s sensuous portrayal of Semele’s unyielding desire and eventual downfall was absolutely enthralling, while Richadot’s take on her double role was versatile as ever, depicting the emotional continuum with a commanding presence, both vocally and theatrically.

Gianluca Buratto provided the audience with some splendid comedy with his marvellous portrayal of Somnus, while Hugo Hymas was an excellent Jupiter, depicting the amorous deity with delightful youthfulness. Alongside uplifting contributions from Carlo Vistoli, Emily Owen, Angela Hicks and Peter Davoren, this was a gorgeous cast, one ideally suited for Semele.

With a sublime staging, a trademark feature with Gardiner performances, Semele was wonderfully brought to life at Alexandra Palace Theatre. The performance was recorded for a forthcoming album release on the Monteverdi Ensembles house label, Soli Deo Gloria, thus happily preserved for a wider audience outside the lucky ones present at these performances.    

 

English Baroque Soloists

Monteverdi Choir

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor and director

 

George Frideric Handel: Semele, HWV 58 (1743)

 

Louise Alder, Semele

Hugo Hymas, Jupiter

Lucile Richardot, Juno / Ino

Carlo Vistoli, Athamas

Gianluca Buratto, Cadmus / Somnus

Emily Owen, Iris

Angela Hicks, Cupid

Peter Davoren, Apollo

 

Thomas Guthrie, director

Rick Fisher, lighting designer

Patricia Hofstede, costume designer

 

Alexandra Palace, London

2 May 2019, 7.30 pm

 

© Jari Kallio

 

 

Stunning album presentation of the superlative ”An English Coronation” programme by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrielis

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For almost thirty years now, conductor Paul McCreesh and his formidable ensemble, Gabrieli Consort & Players, have provided us with an ever expanding collection of wonderful concept albums, ranging from recreations of late 16th century Venetian Coronation ceremonies to reconstructions of 18th century protestant services.   

Their latest recorded project, however, is a 20th century affair, focusing on the most resplendent of modern western rituals, the coronation ceremony of the English monarch. The new album, straightforwardly titled as An English Coronation, 1902-1953, fuses together musical material from the coronations of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1937) and Elizabeth II (1953) into one amazing amalgam of regal spledour.

With a generous playing time of two hours and forty minutes, An English Coronation is assembled around the scheme of the 1937 coronation service, incorporating music from all four aforementioned coronations. A world premiere is also featured, namely David Matthews’ fascinating orchestral tableau Recession and National Anthem, Op. 150 (2018), specially commissioned for this project.

The main body of the album is based on recordings made last July at Ely Cathedral, in conjunction with a concert presentation of the programme, featuring the massed forces of the young singers of the Gabrieli ROAR mentoring project. In addition, there is a considerable amount of additional material, recorded in separate sessions at various London locations.

The main items in the programme include superlative performances of Parry’s ever uplifting I Was Glad (1902/1911), Walton’s stunning Coronation Te Deum (1953), Vaughan Williams’ riveting The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune (1953) and the unparalleled coronation standard ever since the coronation of George II in 1727, Handel’s famous anthem Zadok the Priest, HWV 258.

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Hearing the joyous voices of the three-hundred-strong choir, together with the splendid Gabrieli Players and the ravishing roar of the Ely Cathedral organ is truly one-of-a-kind experience. Rarely, if ever, has one felt so elated as when listening to these performances.

Three outstanding marches are included in the programme. The disc opens with a ravishing performance of Elgar’s stupendous Coronation March (1911), a ten-minute quasi-symphonic masterpiece. Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (1901) is obviously included, in a most spirited performance imaginable. Closing the album with brilliant orchestral joy, Walton’s best-loved Crown Imperial (1937/1953) is heard.

The imaginative playlist of sublime choral items include delightfully diverse selections from Tallis, Gibbons, Purcell and Howells, among others. In addition, the Credo and the Sanctus from Vaughan Williams’ unparalleled 1921 choral gem, the Mass in g minor (1921) are included, in their 1953 anglicized versions. Sung with immense beauty by Gabrieli Consort, these concentrated miniatures provide excellent contrast to the openly jubilant pieces for massed forces.

Yet another level of celebratory spirit is added by a gorgeous selection of fanfares, written by Ernest Bullock, and performed by a fabulous ensemble of authentic fanfare trumpets, fanfare trombones and side drums. Sounding ever bright and glorious, the fanfares lift up the spirits of the listener in a uniquely joyous way.

Alongside all the wonderful music, there are essential spoken contributions from Simon Russell Beale, whose voice bears commanding authority and piousness. The audience of the Ely Cathedral performance serves as the congregation, providing the acclamations and joining the chorus in the hymns and in the National Anthem.

It should also be noted, that an attentive ear may pick up a delightful spoken cameo by the conductor, delivering the King’s oath.

Splendidly recorded and beautifully presented by Signum Classics, this album is an absolute must for any listener interested in first class choral singing and orchestral performance, as well as anyone in need for an uplifting sonic journey. A definite candidate for Album of the Year.

 

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Gabrieli ROAR

Paul McCreesh, conductor

Simon Russel Beale, narrator

 

Recorded at Ely Cathedral (23-25 July 2018), Royal Masonic School Chapel, Richmansworth (26-27 July 2018) and Church of St Silas the Martyr, London (6 September 2018)

Signum Classics SIGCD569, 2019

 

© Jari Kallio

 

A feast of discovery – Thomas Adès’ Piano Concerto gets its European premiere in Leipzig

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Conducting the Gewandhausorchester in this weeks concerts, Thomas Adès had devised a marvellously imaginative programme for his Leipzig appearance, including the European premiere of his Piano Concerto (2018), written for Kirill Gerstein, who gave the first performance in Boston in early March.

Appearing as soloist in the Leipzig performances too, Gerstein is a fabulous artist, whose repertoire extends from best-loved classics to gorgeous rarities, such as the massive Busoni concerto. In this respect, he is quite the ideal soloist for the new Adès piece, which pays homage to the concerto tradition, while adventuring into fascinating uncharted territories.

Following Concerto Conciso (1997) and In Seven Days (2008), the new Piano Concerto is, actually, Adès’ third piece in the medium, though the first one to actually bear the title of a concerto. Cast in three movements and employing the fast-slow-fast structural outline, the piece is true to its title, a full-blooded virtuoso piece, based on a dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.

And what an endlessly fascinating and compelling dialogue it is. The outer movements feast with Nancarrowesque rhythms and riveting instrumental colour, provided by Adès’ impeccable craft for orchestration. On the surface, one can spot family resemblance to Liszt and Ravel, among others, yet the writing is ever unmistakably Adèsian.

The opening movement is set in motion by a timpani stroke, followed by the solo piano. The strings and woodwind join, leading to the first tutti passage. There is instantly catching groove in the music, commanding the listener’s undivided attention. The movement unravels in ever-shifting soundscapes, including a delightful passage featuring solo marimba and castanets.

A sparkling cadenza leads to the closing section of the movement, with the full ensemble engaged in a sonic whirlwind, ending with a bang.

The slow second movement is a perfect gem, clad in translucent harmonic colour, fusing tuned gongs together with the solo line, giving rise to whole new spheres of sound, enriched by the hue of a suspended cymbal. The movement is rooted in intricate intensity, resulting in a ravishing musical journey, providing splendid contrast to the outer movements.

In the finale, gorgeous flow of energy in unleashed into a labyrinth of musical tensions, to an enchanting effect. Halfway through the movement, the music comes to a brief standstill, before heading to its breathtaking conclusion.

The premiere performance, with the dedicatee on the keyboard and the composer on the podium, was an outstanding event. Gerstein’s mastery over the wonderfully demanding solo part was truly amazing, and the Gewandhausorchester had absorbed Adès’ equally challenging orchestral writing to the bone. With the composer at the helm, the sound was carefully balanced, resulting in an admirable transparency and detail.

With numerous further performances from Los Angeles to Helsinki already scheduled, one can safely assume that the new Adès concerto will, deservedly, have a firm place in the repertoire.

Interestingly, the Beethoven overtures seem to fall into two categories, the (over)performed and the rare ones. Among the latter horde of treasures, the brilliant Zur Namensfeier (Name Day Overture, 1814-15) is one of the least performed. At Gewandhaus, it was last heard ten years ago in a series of concerts conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and subsequently released on CD by Decca.

Given its rarity and sheer musical quality, Zur Namensfeier was a most delightful choice for a concert opener by Adès and the orchestra. Though originally intended for a performance on the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the name day of the emperor Franz I, in October 1814, Beethoven didn’t finish the score until the following year, with the first performance eventually taking place on Christmas Day 1815.

Written in C major, the overture is a six-minute burst of sonic energy at its most Beethovenian. Pronounced tutti chords, riveting horn parts, dexterous strings and airy winds all come together into a jubilant whole. The orchestra and Adès had a ball with the score, ringing out its almost violently joyous textures with vigour and commitment.

Alongside the Beethoven overture, there was another rarity par excellence featured in the programme, namely Liszt’s 1857 symphonic poem Hunnenschlacht (The Battle of the Huns). Inspired by Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s fresco, and scored for a large orchestra and organ, Hunnenschlacht is an absolutely ravishing piece of symphonic story-telling.

Hunnenschlacht opens with muted strings, joined by winds and horn-calls, as the armies gather for battle. The tension builds, as the forces meet on the field and the battle is launched. After the first orchestral climax, the organ enters, as the souls of the fallen transcend into heaven.

Yet, while ascending, the fierce souls continue their battle, leading to a sequence for full orchestra and organ. Bursting with energy and celestial spledour, the music is brought to its massive conclusion with an earth-shaking final chord for brass and organ.

A ravishning performance by Adès and the Gewandhausorchester, with marvellously paced sonic architecture and formidable balance. The fierce beauty of the music was carried out to the fullest, with Liszt outdoing the CGI-driven battle scenes of contemporary cinema with flying colours.

The evening concluded with another battlefield-inspired piece, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45). For Stravinsky, the news of allied forces advancing to defeat Hitler in the spring of 1945 provided the impetus for the upbeat finale of the symphony.

In the Stravinsky oeuvre, the word symphony is attributed to the titles of five works, beginning with his opus one, the Rimsky-Korsakov-inspired Symphony in E flat (1905-07/1913). With his Debussy memorial, Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920), the title was used in somewhat different sense, and thus it wasn’t until the 1930s that Stravinsky picked up symphonic writing again with Symphony of Psalms (1930) and Symphony in C (1938-40).

In all his symphonies, Stravinsky steps aside from the Mahlerian path of symphony as an all-embracing sounding universe and employs a more restricted, yet ever fascinating means of expression. With each of the symphonies, Stravinsky re-invents himself in most splendid manner.

Symphony in Three Movements is scored for a large orchestra, including piano à la Petrushka (1910-11), which he came to revise soon  after finishing the symphony. The first movement is a feast of propulsive rhythms and tricky accents, clad in brilliant orchestral hue. With Adès, the Gewandhausorchester provided sharp rhythms, clear textures and that ballet-like flow, ever essential to the music. Eloquently phrased melodic lines arose from the orchestral fabric, to a stunning effect.

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In the subtle second movement, fabulously performed by the orchestra, intricate dialogue between the harp, and the wind soli takes prominence, with the strings providing a gently rocking accompaniment. The music permutates through various landscapes, occasionally predating Bernard Herrmann’s classic scores for Hitchcock.

A short interlude leads to the upbeat finale, rooted in kinetic energy, leading to flamboyant tutti bursts, alternating with endlessly imaginative chamber-like passages. As the movement proceeds, the pace mounts and the symphony concludes with a vibrant coda for full orchestra.

Adès and the orchestra embraced the finale with admirable energy, providing an outstanding conclusion to an evening of discovery and delight. A case in point of imaginative programming.

 

Gewandhausorchester

Thomas Adès, conductor

 

Kirill Gerstein, piano

 

Ludwig van Beethoven: Zur Namensfeier Overture, Op. 114 (1814-15)

Thomas Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2018, European premiere)

Franz Liszt: Hunnenschlacht, Symphonic Poem No. 11, S 105 (1857)

Igor Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45)

 

Gewandhaus, Leipzig

Thursday 25 April 2019, 8 pm

 

© Jari Kallio

LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel celebrate John Williams on their splendid DG album

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Los Angeles Philharmonic is celebrating its centenary with delightfully contemporary focus on its programming. During this season, the orchestra has commissioned and performed a wide repertoire of contemporary music, including Steve Reich’s first orchestral piece in over thirty years, Philip Glass’ Lodger Symphony, John Adams’ new piano concerto for Yuja WangTan Dun’s Buddha Passion and Andrew Norman’s Sustain, to name just a few highlights.

On record, the first album take of the anniversary season comes in a guise of a two-disc live recording from concerts at Disney Hall in January, with the LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel conducting an all-John Williams programme. Following the 2015 season opening concert on C Major blu-ray, this is their second Williams evening captured on disc.

In terms of programming, there was a more diverse setup on the 2015 take, including Soundings (2003), written for the inauguration of the Disney Hall. The new disc, in its turn, focuses solely on Williams’ film scores, apart from the Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984), a shared item between both programmes.

As a whole, the DG album is a marvellous survey encompassing five decades of Williams’ Hollywood career, from Jaws (1975) to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and everything in between. While the emphasizing on the big adventure films, there are more subtle pieces included, namely Theme from Schindler’s List (1993) and Sayuri’s Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), both beautifully performed.

There is one new piece on the disc, a string orchestra arrangement from The Force Awakens, titled simply as Adagio (2015/2019). Based on some of the most contemplative material from the original film score, the Adagio is a splendid addition to the encyclopedia of concert pieces from the Star Wars saga. Wonderfully performed by the LA Phil strings and Dudamel, the Adagio is a perfect gem.

In addition to the Adagio, three classic Star Wars pieces are included in the programme. The Imperial March has bears deliciously menacing pomp, while Yoda’s Theme is rooted in most sublime dignity. Solemn and bright, The Throne Room and Finale is one of the absolute highlights of the disc.

Alongside Star Wars, Williams’ contributions to the Harry Potter films are represented with three pieces, with Hedwig’s Theme and Harry’s Wonderful World from The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) obviously included. However, it is Fawkes the Phoenix from The Chamber of Secrets (2002) providing the most awesome effect with the gorgeous LA Phil sound embracing Williams’ hauntingly beautiful cue.    

The Spielberg-Williams collaboration is also well documented, though only up to the mid-nineties. The reinvention of classical forms in The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws and Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) get an astonishing workout from the orchestra and Dudamel, combining gripping intensity with outstanding structural clarity.

A glimpse of modernism is conveyed through Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), a concert adaptation combining several short cues from the film into a quasi-symphonic unity. Again, the unparalleled clarity of the LA Phil perfomance reveals the wealth of detail embedded in Williams’ orchestral craft.

Of all the cues on the album, The Adventure on Earth from E.T. is not only the most extended but also the one most faithful to the actual film cue underscoring the final scenes of the film. Celebrating the art of film scoring at its purest, unedited manner, The Adventure on Earth is a case in point of careful pacing, admirably carried out by Dudamel.

In similar manner, Flight to Neverland from Hook (1991), a concert adaptation combining the original film cue with a trailer-music Prologue, is rooted in splendid sweep and sonic architecture.

Yet, if one was to pick just one highlight from the album, it would probably be Theme from Jurassic Park (1993). In this five-minute cue, mystery, upbeat solemnity and sheer orchestral energy come together in truly unique manner, yielding to one of the most remarkable documents of the truly one-of-a-kind sound of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Rounding off with a brisk performance of the Superman March (1978), the album comes to its brilliant ending. During the tenures of both Dudamel and his predecessor Esa-Pekka Salonen, LA Phil has proven itself as one of the top symphonic ensembles in contemporary and 20th century repertoire, with inspired and idiomatic takes of this multi-faced repertoire. In this respect, Celebrating John Williams is a logical part of the continuum.

 

Celebrating John Williams

 

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

 

Simone Porter, violin

Robert deMaine, cello

 

Recorded at Walt Disney Concert Hall, January 24-27 2019

Deutsche Grammophon (2019)

 

© Jari Kallio

There’s a new cello concerto in town – Fagerlund’s Nomade gets a marvellous Finnish premiere alongside an impressive Mahler Ninth

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Over the past two decades, Sebastian Fagerlund has written a fabulous body of orchestral works, demonstrating marvellous craft and originality. A key aspect of Fagelund’s oeuvre is an ever-expanding series of concertos, including Darkness in Light (2012) for violin, Transit (2013) for guitar and Mana (2013-14) for bassoon, to name just a few of them.

The latest addition to the catalogue is Nomade (2018), a cello concerto commissioned by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and written for Nicolas Alstaedt. Premiered in Hamburg in February, Nomade is one of the most brilliant and elaborate works by Fagerlund.

Cast in six movements with two short interludes, the thirty-minute Nomade takes a form of sonic a journey via ravishing soundscapes. Performed attacca, save a general pause between the third and fourth movements, the music flows seamlessly through a multitude of textures, with overlapping layers of fascinating musical ideas.

Nomade opens with a broad espressivo statement from the orchestra, paving the way for the cello’s first entrance. Appearing from silence, the enchanting solo line takes prominence, joined by woodwinds and pitched percussion with sustained string accompaniment. The chamber-like textures predominate the opening movement, whereas the in the second movement, marked agitato, molto ritmico, the pace mounts, as the full orchestra is engaged in propulsive rhythms.

Following a quasi-static orchestral interlude, the cello sets the fast third movement in motion. Another feast of brilliant rhythms, the vivace capriccioso is contrasted by the most delicate section of Nomade, a luminous sarabande fifth movement, with the cello, bowed vibraphone, harp and winds woven together with ravishing beauty.

Gradually the sarabande grows into dazzlingly contrapuntal textures for full orchestra leading to the movement’s contemplative closing with the solo line floating through a sonic hue of vibraphone and stings, coloured by bass drum and crystal glasses. A twelve-bar second interlude ensues, scored for static strings alone.

At the core of the sublime fifth movement is an ad lib. cadenza, followed by a transition to esalto, molto agitato finale, unleashing the orchestra and soloist into a sonic whirlwind, with quasi-Ligetian rhythmic fluidity. After a climax, the music dissolves into an enigmatic coda leading to an intense silence.

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The Finnish premiere performance with Alstaedt and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, with its chief conductor Hannu Lintu at the helm, was simply outstanding. The fabulously demanding solo part was performed with utmost virtuosity and conviction by Alstaedt, whereas Lintu and the orchestra, with their unique experience in Fagerlund’s music, were a perfect match.

Livestreamed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and recorded for a future release on disc by BIS Records, Nomade made a lasting impression upon its Finnish premiere. For all the cellists out there, check it out, there’s a new concerto in town.

Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, the last one to be more or less finished, was written in 1909-10. Despite its prevailing sense of resignation, the symphony was not an intentional musical farewell. Instead, Mahler went on to write his Tenth Symphony (1910) which exists in continuous draft score, far more finished than usually assumed.

Still, the idea of being lost to the world, a key concept in all Mahler, is omnipresent in both the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde (1908-09), a symphony in all but name. Cast in four movements, the Ninth Symphony follows a structural scheme of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (1893), with slow outer movements framing two fast ones.

The first movement, andante comodo, is one of the most dazzling creations in all Mahler, a vast symphonic arc lasting nearly thirty minutes. Though scored for a massive orchestra, the movement is mostly chamber music, written for ever-imaginative instrumental combinations. Only rarely does the full orchestra come together for brief tutti bursts, only to disintegrate once again into musical atoms.

The opening of the movement is quasi-Webenian, with melodic fragments scattered around the orchestra of strings, horns, harps and clarinets. Gradually other instruments join, and the musical material starts to take shape. With its utmost textural transparency and fragility, the first movement calls for a huge ensemble of virtuoso chamber musicians and a conductor with an impeccable sense of pacing and architecture.

Lintu and the wonderful musicians of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra gave an absolutely shattering performance of the opening movement. Marvellously balanced and paced, their journey through the andante comodo was a deeply moving shared experience, though demanding, yet most rewarding.

The two middle movements, a grotesque ländler and a violent rondo-burleske, form a contrasting pair of dancescapes, one rural, the other urban. In both movements, textures and harmonies are stretched on the edge of catastrophe, with the music barely holding together in its sardonic turmoil.

Rarely have I encountered a performance so well balanced between careful attention to detail and the unhindered execution of those extreme emotional tensions at the core of the music, than with Lintu and the Finnish RSO. The fine details of Mahler’s orchestration and harmony, often more or less muddied in a live performance, stood out with admirable clarity without any compromise on the intensity of the music.

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The closing adagio, a twenty-five-minute evaporation process leading to a complete silence and standstill, was well shaped, without any exaggeration. An enthralling conclusion to a riveting symphonic journey.

 

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Hannu Lintu, conductor

Nicolas Alstaedt, cello

 

Sebastian Fagerlund: Nomade – Concerto for violoncello and orchestra (2018, Finnish premiere)

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (1909-10)

 

Helsinki Music Centre

Wednesday 10 April, 7 pm

 

© Jari Kallio