Sunday, 31 May 2009

Claudio and the magnolias


There are two reasons to rejoice in Abbado’s long-awaited return to Milan, set down for June 2010 as outlined in this widely-circulated news item. The work he will conduct is to be Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, and in his honour the city is planting 90,000 magnolia trees (the one above frames not La Scala but the more graceful neoclassical façade of Kenwood).

Prima la musica: I only hope this doesn’t preclude Abbado conducting a ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ in Lucerne with the unsurpassable Festival Orchestra. This year the lakeside dream team is giving us the First and the Fourth – not quite enough to lure me out there again. Well, the Fourth would be, but I don’t want to hear it crowned by angular Magdalena Kozena’s childlike heaven. Memories of the Seventh several years back, and all those invigorating DVDs, will tide me over.


It was this release, along with a Debussy double, which first alerted me to the uniqueness of the LFO/Abbado 'love-in' (as Daniel Harding described it in our Lucerne interview), had me overdoing the superlatives for the BBC Music Magazine and led me to pack my bags for Lucerne. Not this year; Milan 2010 it will have to be, if at all possible.

Poi le magnolie: I gather from the rather vaguely worded news that the Milan trees were the Podesta’s idea, and that the environmentally friendly Abbado brought up the subject of magnolias. I don’t remember Italy as a land of magnolias, though Judas trees abound in town and country during the late Spring. And nothing becomes the Italian mountains so well as those beech forests, which make me dream of that haunting Calvino story Baron in the trees.



Ah, memories of the Maiella from this time last year – how I wish we were there again. I never heard whether the earthquake wrought any havoc that far from the Gran Sasso – I’m guessing they experienced tremors, no more.

Anyway, I must also confess I didn’t know magnolias were city-hardy trees, even though we have a good display of them in the posher bits of London – Hampstead and Chelsea – every spring. A few more would be a better option than Boris’s better-than-nothing aim for yet more boring but resilient London planes.

Our royal parks’ gardeners are getting a little more eco-friendly in their formal planting. On Thursday I cycled past a splendid display of foxgloves in Hyde Park, and the bees adore them.



One final shot from the same homeward journey, to see if Sophie’s dropping in. As she can’t open photo attachments in Mali – and maybe not in Casablanca where she is at the moment, helping Keita out with his treatment - I thought she might like to see that the great man she briefly had the right to call Hotel Djenne Djenno’s house photographer, Malick Sidibe, has an exhibition in Kensington’s HackelBury Gallery. The photo in the window, of a young Malian couple at a dance, lifts the spirits.

10 comments:

JVaughan said...

Greetings!:

Begging your pardon for probable ignorance, while I am not a worshipper, I rather enjoy the two recordings I have of Mme Kozena, so am unaware of any technique issues. I potentially could learn something important here!

Now going off topic if you do not mind, do I assume that Strauss's six violins in the Opera proper are divided three and three? If so, this would mean that each violin section is outnumbered by one in the violas, thus again potentially creating an odd balance? I do indeed note the solo sextet at the beginning of that Opera proper, and a lovely effect it is! I further like the harmonies at the very beginning of the big dance number in F with piano, and the overall harmonic language, while eminently Straussian, somehow seems more accessible than in some of his other works. As I might have written previously, I recall the late Dr. Bohm saying that this was Strauss's own favourite among his operas, and it could well be on its way to becoming mine!

And, since I mentioned Sir Mark in that other blog we both visited over this past weekend, I think I might wish to have his recent recording of Sibelius _1_ and _3_, even though Mr. McGregor expressed at least a few reservations about the latter. Neither work is yet in my collection, though I do know the _3rd_ a little, the _1st_ somewhat less, and it, combined with your recommended Jarvi _6_, would complete the cycle of the orchestral Symphonies. I might also wish to consider Sir Mark's Elgar _Music_ _Makers_, though I enjoy Sir Andrew Davis's, and value some of its couplings, notably the two Chansons. I recently acquired his, coupled with the composer's, account of the _Nursery_ _Suite_, a work I like rather much, and, while the RCM strings may lack the ultimate in refinement, I rather enjoy his performance, though, to my ears, Sir Charles Groves seems to get more emotion out of the opening of "Dreaming," with his stronger leaning on the two bigt climaxes, though both Sir Mark and the composer lean less. Happy Elgar's birthday tomorrow!

Hoping that this finds you and yours well, and with renewed best wishes,

J. V.

David said...

Well, I do quite like Kozena's Mozart, Gluck and Handel, but when it comes to later stuff she seems to have difficulty with long phrases. And if you see her in concert, she's the opposite of what most teachers would regard as the relaxed ideal - juts out her neck, writhes a bit too much for comfort. The only singer I've had equal difficulty watching is Bostridge, for the same reasons.

Since, however, I wouldn't pretend to have singing-teacherly wisdom, and my own technique is wretched, I'll venture no further.

Strauss doesn't have 'firsts and seconds' for his Ariadne violins, just divides them into the three desks. And for most of the opera proper, until Bacchus turns up, he has two violins balanced with two violas.

My favourite Sibelius 1 = Rattle's, used to be coupled with a gorgeous recording of The Oceanides which I play more than any other Sibelius. Elder, vedremo. Don't like his Wagner - too slow and Goodallesque for my tastes - ditto his Gerontius, but he's a very fine conductor these days, no doubt.

JVaughan said...

I do not have Mme Kozena in Handel, but rather in the now-famous and, in some quarters, controversial McCreesh recording of Bach's _St._ _Matthew_ _Passion_, where I enjoy her much (as fond as I personally am of that gripping performance, I often feel that it draws more attention to itself than to the sobering story it should be telling). I also have, and enjoy, her mixed recital of 20th-Century song, including Ravel, Respighi, Shostakovich, Britten, etc. Another London blogger with whom I communicate complains about Mr. Bostridge's mannerisms, but I understand these, whether rightly or wrongly, to be vocal, though I personally have more problems of late with Mr. Padmore than with him, with that well-meaning, yet annoying, over-emphasis at times on certain things. We were both glad when Mr. Ainsley returned to sing Jephtha at the recent London Handel Festival, and both liked the result!

Again begging your pardon if necessary, does Strauss use that same string complement in the _Ariadne_ Prologue? Maestro Kempe does not seem to be following what I understand to have been his, and Strauss's, usual practice of dividing his first and second violins to his left and right respectively, thus suggesting the possibility that, while things are not as soloistic in the Prologue, they could be similar numerically as per tutti strength, though that is just speculation for now.

I have heard virtually nothing of Sir Simon's work in recent years. I also have not heard any of Sir Mark's Wagner, but do know, as I expect you do, that he recently conducted a concert performance of _Gotterdammerung_ with his Halle in Manchester. Since he, like myself, "cut his teeth" on the famous Solti _Ring_, his tempi may well be on the slow side, but whether or not they are Goodallesque I cannot say since, based on what I have been reading and hearing about _HIS_ slowness, I have been avoiding his famous ENO Cycle. I know you have reservation(s), as I do, about Mr. Groves' Gerontius, but are you now saying that Sir Mark's tempi are too slow there? They do not seem so to me, but _MAYBE_ he could have had a bit more forward momentum in "Go Forth" as in our mutually-at-least-liked Barbirolli recording, though the composer rather broadens that out. Most people I have read/heard tell us that Sir John takes _AT_ _LEAST_ some liberties with Elgar's score, while one writer at least suggests that Sir Mark is closer to the spirit of it, though, by implication, not necessarily the letter. Yet Elgar, for all his scrupulousness, seems to have been willing to allow for differing interpretations to at least a degree. I learned _The_ _Music_ _Makers_ from your beloved Boult recording, which indeed is incandescent, but now have, as I told you, your interrim choice, the Davis (I think Sir Adrian's _MIGHT_ now be available again, even if only in used copies), though again may wish to investigate Sir Mark's. I hope his Proms _Lobgesang_ will not be too slow, notably in the orchestral Adagio and again in the first verse of "Nun Danket Alle Gott."

Since I wished to check the phrasing of the horn passages in the "Meditation" with how the tenor sings them in the following movement, I sampled those two movements in the Hickox _Light_ _Of_ _Life_ last evening, and am considering possibly switching to it (I like the greater urgency in certain places), though I still _MIGHT_ end up preferring the soloists in the older groves overall along with its dryer acoustic.

J. V.

David said...

In haste - yes, Strauss uses the same divisions in the Ariadne Prologue, though this time he starts off with all three desks playing together, leaving the first to climb the heights.

JVaughan said...

Thank you _VERY_ much for this! Yet, since I spent much time with this opera after downloading that Kempe recording, I may not bring it out again for Strauss's birthday. Yet, whether or not I do, I must hereafter pay closer attention to what the violins are doing in more-or-less-tutti passages.

For what it is worth, it has been my custom, renewed again this year, to play, on Elgar's birthday itself, those three works in which he told his other beloved Alice he had shewn himself, the _Concerto_ in the famous Menuhin/Elgar recording, the _Symphony_ in our hero's unmatched-for-me account, and the _Ode_, as already related, in Sir Andrew's. Returning to the overall chronology, I hope to reach the 1890's choral works, apart from the already-played _Light_ _Of_ _Life_ (I played it between Parts 1 and 2 of _The_ _Apostles_ over Pentecost Weekend, _The_ _Kingdom_ coming on that day itself), today. Yet this cycle will have to be interrupted from the time of Schumann's birthday until around the last third of the month for numerous other observances, including, on 11 June (Strauss and Floyd will have to be moved to other days), the anniversary of my first hearing, in 1978, of VW's _The_ _Pilgrim's_ _Progress_, which, as I doubtless have previously told you, remains at least one of my favourite works in the whole of Western serious music!

When on my way to re-check as to whether or not I was grossly repeating myself above, I happened, among other things, upon your observation about one Miss Palmer! I, of course, did not hear this recent Grimes, but, if she sings in it as she has been doing in recent years, she _INDEED_ is in _FINE_ shape for 65! What a remarkable lot of geriatric singers we have these days, including her, Sir Thomas, and, of course, Segnor Domingo, among possibly others? And I personally feel that becoming a mezzo was the best thing that could have happened to her since, while I have enjoyed some of her work as a soprano to a degree at least, I have liked her mezzo work _MUCH_ better! I look forward to her Lady Jane in G&S's _Patience_ from the Proms later this Summer! Two roles in which I especially like her are Florence Pike and Katisha, though I am not familiar with her rather-famous Chlytemnestra.

J. V.

David said...

Radio 3 is broadcasting a May performance of the ENO Grimes on 11 July, so you can hear La Palmer and others then.

I don't think any of those old troupers would like to be referred to as 'geriatric'...

JVaughan said...

Thank you very much, and point well taken!

J. V.

JVaughan said...

P.S. Another older singer I admire much is Mr. Robert Lloyd, though I have not heard much, if anything, about his activities in a while.

David said...

I wish it were better news, but I wondered who the hell was singing the Monk/Charles V in the Royal Opera Don Carlo last year, and was sorry to discover it was none other than Cap'n Bob. And they say basses go on for ever...

JVaughan said...

I am indeed sorry to hear this since, while he had an annoying wobble, at least to my ears, at times, he could do some wonderful things at his best! At _VERY_ least, he made one of the most-moving Angels of the Agony I have thus far heard. Two early recordings from him which I like are in, yes, Sir Adrian's account of _The_ _Pilgrim's_ _Progress_ (one of the Shepherds) and as Ford in VW's _Sir_ _John_ _In_ _Love_! Two later recordings I would single out are his Sarastro in Sir Charles's Telarc _Zauberflote_ and, having mentioned Miss Palmer's Florence Pike, his Superintendent Budd in the same recording! I have not heard myuch, if any, of his Wagner, but just maybe I can imagine him as Gurnemanz. I had not heard him called by that name until tonight.

J. V.