Saturday 14 December 2013

The grail

Here's one I prepared earlier, now let out of its cage. Look no further if you haven't listened to my Building a Library on Parsifal, just broadcast, and you're postponing revelation until you catch it on iPlayer for the week, or whatever this clip facility now up and running might be (17/!2: my producer tells me it should be 'up there until the end of days', or of the BBC, whichever comes first. There's also a podcast, which you can download here). I'll even stick in a further grail image, 'the one', ho hum, in Valencia Cathedral, to delay a glimpse of the winning cover.

The choice, for the first time in my 20-odd years of doing the programme, was totally obvious. So many folk have said to me over the past few months, 'of course you'll go for Knappertsbusch '62'. I thought I would when I listened again to Hans Hotter as Gurnemanz in Act One. But it became ever clearer to me as I listened to the three 'Kna' Bayreuth Parsifals currently doing the rounds - also including his first, from 1951, and his last of 1964, not long before his death - that I didn't want this kind of hard-hitting so often.

Kna's style does make for magnificent pinnacles - Hotter's 'O wunden-wundervoller heilige Speer' ('62) and George London's 'Erbarmen' in Act 1 ('51), Jon Vickers' 'Amfortas! Die Wunde!' in Act 2 ('64) - but what I've always sought since Haitink showed me the light at Covent Garden, conducting Bill Bryden's mostly intelligent production, is a naturalness that doesn't need to reiterate the spirituality and grandeur. As Mark Wigglesworth remarked when he came to talk to my Opera in Focus class the other week, Parsifal gives and gives while Tristan simply takes and leaves you exhausted. A great conductor needs to guide and give space where necessary, of course, but not to impose his (I await a 'her') will.

Which the great Rafael Kubelik never does. A few clever folk knew of this 1980 studio recording's existence but I certainly didn't before I came to listen and nor did my Parsifal-crazy producer Clive Portbury. He agrees that it's incomparably the best of what we have.

Runners-up I don't need to mention again here, but I do urge you to see the DVD of Hans Hollman's Zurich production. It would qualify alone as the only document of Haitink's conducting, but it's also the most quietly moving staging I've seen, trusting to the singers' stillness in the outer acts and - most important of all - respecting the transcendence of the grail ritual for all the suffering that surrounds it. The vital antidote, in short, to Stephen Langridge's Royal Opera horror. The students all thought so when I screeened Act Three in an extra class on Monday, and many wiped away the tears that simply hadn't flowed at Covent Garden.

I have a feeling that might happen when the Met production with Jonas Kaufmann comes out on DVD in February; from the images I've seen it appears much more in the right region than the one we're enduring in London. In the meantime, snap this up while you can; Gatti's conducting won't surpass Haitink's, and probably won't come anywhere near.

Alas, there are no clips on YouTube so I'll move sideways to seasonal seriousness. On the same Tuesday when my preparation schedule had been eaten up by the flying visit to 'do a telly', I took the BBC Symphony Orchestra class through two very different responses to the Flight into Egypt story, tied in with the chance to hear the two works in question tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Berlioz's painfully beautiful, intimate L'Enfance du Christ located the narrative close to the centre in the hands of the tenor 'Evangelist'. We had Anthony Rolfe-Johnson returning to life so scrupulously for John Eliot Gardiner, but all I could find on YouTube was Alain Vanzo not at his considerable best for Jean Martinon. So let's make do with that.

Like Britten's best poetry compilations, John Adams's El Niño would be admirable just as a sequence of magical words tellingly juxtaposed, without even  taking into account the extraordinary music which of course layers it still further. I look forward to experiencing it tonight without Peter Sellars' stage 'realisation', so enervating when the 2000 Paris original came to London. Adams for his supernatural epilogue turns to the charming and naive Gospel According to Pseudo-Matthew for a rest beneath a rather unusual palm tree, and juxtaposes it with the last of the stunning Mexican poems by Rosario Castellanos, a revelation to me.

As the soundclip doesn't offer a translation of the Castellanos poem, I take the liberty of reproducing it here:

Lady of the winds,
heron of the plains,
when you sway
your waist sings.

Gesture of prayer
or prelude of wings,
you are the cup into which the skies
pour one by one.

From the dark land of men
I've come kneeling to behold you,
Tall, naked, alone.
A poem.

So the text resounds and melts into a single repeated word in the mouths of  children - 'poesía'.

15/12 What a weekend it's been. My Arts Desk reviews are now up of El Niño here and of L'Enfance du Christ here. Don't whatever you do miss the Radio 3 broadcast of the ineffably moving Berlioz performance on the iPlayer here for the next week.


Willym said...

Thanks you for sharing the Adams - a piece I have heard about but not heard. And a bigger thank you for the recommendation on the Parsifal. For some reason I can't get the iPlayer feed but will continue to try. I've been toying with the idea of which one to get and had been looking at the last Kna from the hallowed halls.

Once again you have me running to the record store - well okay iTunes.

Susan Scheid said...

I have listened with pleasure to your Building a Library on Parsifal. What a treasure trove of information about the opera, the styles of singing, the approaches to the music generally, and all else, and all so clearly and effectively set out. For me as a Parsifal "beginner," it's an incredible introduction. I was interested in your comment about Levine's approach--he is so revered over here, I can't remember a time when any of our New York reviewers raised an objection, so it's a reminder that perhaps he is not perfect, after all.

As to your two other listening choices, that Adams is so lovely, isn't it? I hope you'll be reporting on that here and/or at TAD soon? I didn't know the Berlioz, and it's lovely. I've located the Gardiner version and am in search of a reliable purveyor for the Parsifal CD and DVD. Thank you for all!

David said...

Ol' reliables, thank you. Will, I think the link I've put in above should work - maybe it wasn't up and running when you tried. If Sue on the Hudson can get it, surely Ottawa will do the honours.

I've just come out reeling from Jurowski conducting El Nino - and as I expected, it worked better than my last live experience with the Sellars visual overload (wisely, they didn't try to add to the concert experience this time). What a deep and layered masterpiece it is. Need to sleep on it before I write up The Arts Desk review. But gosh, it's exhausting. Berlioz's surprising gentleness will be the perfect antithesis tomorrow (not that El Nino doesn't have its intimate and melting moments).

A Wagnerian assures me that Levine has been taking his time in 'getting' Parsifal but he agrees that at Bayreuth and even in the earlier Met performances he certainly hadn't. That opening phrase closes the coffin lid immediately for me (and I have the Bayreuth recording in the home library, but out it goes now to make room for Thielemann and Kubelik).

Willym said...

Finally got the feed this morning - you have such a wonderful radio voice!
And as Susan says the wealth of information and insight is marvellous. I'll have to track down the Kubelik - it isn't available on iTunes but I'm sure I'll find it.

L'enfance is one of those works that should be better known and more often performed at Christmas. I've owned the second Davis recording both on vinyl and CD but hadn't played it in several years. As you always do you've sent me off to rediscover a work that I've loved but neglected.

David said...

Thanks again, Will. I'd say the CD set is well worth buying - mid-price, I think, certainly not cheap but these things tend not to be around for long. The Goodall Covent Garden set is going on Amazon for over £1,000: madness.

I've just come back from L'Enfance: wept nearly all the way through. Wonderful performance with four great soloists and superb BBC Symphony Chorus (the orchestra was fabulous, too, but that's a given).

Anonymous said...

David, I have been reading quietly lately but must speak up today about the Berlioz. I can only agree with Willym's comment: it is so beautiful, and it should indeed be more often performed this time of year, or any time.

If I may go off-topic for a moment and harken back to your earlier post, "Rising Above the Desert," the Adams piece here reminds me of that post and the discussion about Steve Reich. I wanted to tell you that, days after our conversation, there was an hour-long TV interview with Reich. He spoke in more detail about the background for "Different Trains," which you had mentioned: of his own childhood train journeys between divorced parents living on opposite coasts, of seeing a photo of a little boy in Europe who looked like him and wondering about the different trips the two of them were having. What he said was so moving, about himself, and about his imaginings; and, though it hasn't yet made me fall in love with "Different Trains," it has given me some foundation for listening. For me, the music wouldn't be as evocative without it, so that was a lucky happenstance.

Back to "The Grail," I wonder whether you would allow me to provide a link to this post on Facebook? (If you still occasionally take an over-the-shoulder look at Facebook, I have an "arts and humanities" page, also called "newleafsite.") This is such a lovely piece, and it would be nice to share. -- Elizabeth

David said...

Oh, please do, Elizabeth, I'm more than happy for others to do any Facebook work for me. I'm so genuinely warmed by your words and I do think L'Enfance is one of the loveliest works of all time - in fact Berlioz keeps moving higher and higher up my mental list of The Greatest until he reached the top five composers (though comparisons are odious).

And try El Nino too - sadly no broadcast of that event, but there are plenty of YouTube and downloadable clips of the classic premiere recording.

The flawless BBC Symphony Orchestra performance is now up on the iPlayer for the next six days here: I urge you to listen. You'll hear the silence. And I'm just about to send the review live.

Susan Scheid said...

Well, here it is: if I stay away from the internet for one minute, look what I miss! I am beside myself at the thought of the El Niño concert, and with V. Jurowski conducting, too! Your review at TAD is wonderful (I’ve made a comment on TAD; hopefully it will come through this time). I long all the more for a chance to hear this work live. And it is you I have to thank, once again, for alerting me to El Niño, an Adams piece I hadn’t explored until you noted it. I’m afraid my own choices for this year’s Year In Music recording list won’t tell you much you don’t already know—as it’s you who led me to so many of the CD selections on the list. You’ve enriched my musical listening in many, many ways, and I can’t thank you enough. And, PS, on the subject of gifts from you that keep on giving: I see the link you noted to Elizabeth on the Berlioz and hope to get in a listen to that soon, as well as looking forward to the TAD piece on that. Also the Parsifal DVD is on order, along with the Schwanewilms Die Frau DVD that you mentioned earlier. (I’m on the hunt for a place that both has in stock and can reliably deliver the Kubelik.) (Oh, and “to” is now “in” over my way—of course it’s obvious to me now that you’ve noted it!)

David said...

Such a shame Jurowski's performance wasn't broadcast - nor did I see mikes to denote that it was being recorded for future release on the LPO's own label. The original is matchless, as the medieval poem which inspired El Nino's first setting puts it, but it would be good to have a document of the next generation of singers as well as the commitment a large amateur choir can bring (the next time some such is involved, I want to sing in it!)

Berlioz review went up a couple of hours ago - I've linked at the end of the piece. Still tearful at the thought of it.

Roger Neill said...

228 EDavid, have you heard the Knuepfer Parsifal recordings from 1913/14? Just 20 minutes worth in three chunks, but wonderful (and with fine bells)? One of them is on Youtube. Such a shortage of early Parsifal recordings, presumably because Cosima was playing Fafner.

And re L'enfance. Always play it (anachronistic really since it's childhood rather than birth) on Christmas morning.

David said...

You heard, I'm assuming, the Muck 1928 Bayreuth snippet I played with the bells (everyone who loves Parsifal knows that)? Interesting that there's an even earlier Bayreuth recording - the excerpts which preface Muck's sequence on Naxos are from Berlin (though again the sound is remarkable).

I'm putting five excerptable chunks of L'enfance on an Xmas compilation CD to take down to our friends in Lacock. The Shepherds' Farewell has to be my all-time favourite 'carol', if one can so call it: in our church choir we used to sing our inspired master 'Uncle' DAH's fantastical arrangements of Polish, French, Russian and Argentinian numbers, but never that, alas

J. Vaughan said...

I listened to your BAL feature on this drama on Saturday, and, while I admire Mr. Kubelik as a vital conductor, and his adherance to the basic orchestral seating that would have been in effect in Wagner's time, I am STRONGLY-wedded to the Solti recording, and cannot find any real faults in its casting, though I wish to make a point of re-reading the opening scene of Act II carefully and then checking it against Sir Georg's Klingsor, who came in for criticism from you.

To continue with Gurnemanz, the description of him in the libretto begins by stating that he is old, and, though Herr Frick is indeed at the end of his career by the time this recording was made, I find him a MOST-expressive interpreter of this role, and you seem to like him as well. Yet Herr Moll, from what we heard during the feature and from clips on, is not shabby either, though less old-sounding. Regrettably neither gave us the latter's rendering of the prophesy of the Pure Fool at the end of his Narrative, which I think Herr Frick sings as beautifully as I EVER expect to hear it! I think that Frau Ludwig is generally admired as Kundry, and, for me, she gets ALL aspects of this somewhat-complex character RIGHT, from her madness and weariness in Act I to her seductress-mode in Act II to her admittedly-simple vocal contribution in Act III. One passage I especially-like is her very first words in the First Act! And what about the fierceness at "seine mutter ist tod?" And, since you pointed out Miss Minton's calling of Parsifal by his name at her entrance into the middle of Act II, I would like to think that Frau Ludwig could, to use a cliche, melt the hardest of hearts with her rendition of that name!

As we all doubtless know well, Herr Fischer-Dieskau was one of the MOST expressive of singers, even if some disagreed with his manner(isms) at times. Heretofore I have found Mr. London lacking in the expressivity department in the two Bayreuth recordings, but he showed us a little thing or more this past Saturday. A favourite Fischer-Dieskau passage for me is again the first, when he makes me feel his wild pain. And, though I have not played them in a while, he certainly seems to get the necessary angst out of his two monologues. Yet, after writing the foregoing, I regrettably read on Amazon US that he changes words in at least one place. Would you happen to know where that is?

That leaves Herr Kollo's Parsifal. It seems that at least some people put this performance into his period of vocal problems, which, for me at least, reached its peak in Sir Georg's first Meistersinger. I cannot fault his "Amfortas, Die Wunde," but, since this is the only mature Wagner stage work I have not heard in its entirety this year, may play it soon, possibly beginning today. In doing so, I must pay particular attention to how his stature in the role develops over the course of his journey, along with whether or not Herr Frick shows too much strain anywhere, etc. A composer and perceptive opera critic with whom I communicated extensively earlier this year expressed his opinion that, when Parsifal calls for the opening of the shrine at his last word, he should sing this out, not diminuendo on it as Herr Kollo does. Again we did not get to hear Mr. King sing it, either on your feature or, so what does he do there (I also forgot to listen to Essential Classics yesterday, and have yet to figure out how to manoeuvre through archived programmes to get to segments of interest, even if I CAN using a different screen reader than usual, though I also do not know what segment was chosen for playing at the end of that programme)?

(I see I cannot put up the whole text here so will continue in a second post)

J. Vaughan said...

(continuing the above)

We now come to the conducting, on which, regrettably, I can only express a subjective reaction since I do not have the capability of following with a score. I LIKE Sir Georg's way with the VPO, his usually-transparent, from what I recall, textures, his edgy brass where desired, his strong climaxes, and, yes, seeming spirituality in places if I am not misrecalling. If I am not mistaken, you did not mention score indications anywhere in your feature, so is Maestro Kubelik more-faithful to Wagner's score than Sir Georg, taking into account the application of rubato which Wagner expected and the need to adjust balances when performing outside the covered Bayreuth pit? A couple of drawbacks for me in the Kubelik are a more-reverberant acoustic than Sir Georg's and the then-prevalent Germanic, etc., sort of oboe playing, with its particular brand
of vibrato. The former may have detracted from whatever appreciation I might have otherwise had for Maestro Haitink's conducting, though, as I have told you, I do have, and rather-enjoy, his Alpine Symphony, and also enjoyed some of his Boston Brahms. My primary quibble in the Solti is the addition of reverberation for the boys at the top of the hall, though it is good to have REAL boys unless Wagner expects adult females. It would seem unlikely to me that a hall such as that would have a concert-hall acoustic at its bottom, as here, but a cathedrallike one at its top. Again what I have heard of the Kubelik thus far does not show what he, or his recording team, do in those passages. I also do not care for this added reverberation in the trumpet fanfares on Sir Georg's _Lohengrin, a primary factor which had me switching back to the 1953 Bayreuth performance, through which I learned most of that earlier opera via borrowed LP's. There was a complaint somewhere about Titurel being too close on the Kubelik. MAYBE, but there the added reverberation could serve as a sort of substitute.

I sampled the beginning of the new CG production last evening, and found myself YELLING at Mr. Handley and his colleague to STOP talking about this revisionist production, which, I would find this morning, you hated as well! I would just as soon have a cup and light rather than a bleeding boy since the text calls for such, and that composer/critic RIGHTLY, I think, says that any "schaffing neu" that one might do should NOT go contrary to the music and, hopefully by implication, the text as well!

I find that I am able to get a recording of the Proms Tannhauser, so may have a go since Mr. Runnicles comes in significantly faster than my currently-preferred, in the so-called Paris Version, Sinopoli, though listening to the latter does not seem to bring out any dragging. I know that the Sinopoli employs antiphonal violins, and understand this Prom to do likewise. Sir Charles, and a few others at least, take the "Pilgrim's Chorus" in the Overture faster than most, so the first thing for which I will be listening should I acquire this is how this is taken there. I forget whether or not you reviewed it, so should re-check. Any Tannhauser I like MUST have a good Wolfram, so should I expect one here?

With again MANY renewed thanks and best wishes,

J. V

David said...

JV, I'm delighted you can give the kind of space to the Solti recording I was denied in 48 minutes on approx. 27 recordings (I never counted in the end!) Of course I'd like to have played more with Kollo and Frick in. Both are very fine and I wouldn't disagree with anything you say except that, as I hope the example from Act One demonstrated, Solti falls short for me in opening up the grail processional - it really needs to billow at the climax, and for me Thielemann, Kubelik and Knappertsbusch have the kind of natural rubato which allows them to do that; Solti, to my ears, hits too hard.

It was Gwyneth Jones I cited as the most perfect, sensuous Kundry-as-seductress. I don't find Ludwig's voice very sensual, though it is certainly everything else.

I did indeed review the Runnicles Tannhauser on The Arts Desk, and actually found it the highlight of the Proms Wagners - again, more natural than Barenboim's Ring, though that was peerless in so many ways. Christan Pohl was an excellent Wolfram, though the top in the memory of everyone who saw the otherwise disappointing Royal Opera production will be Christian Gerhaher's performance.

David Damant said...

It is not for me to comment on Wagner, but I will add that Fischer-Dieskau was often hopeless at acting - I do not mean acting with his voice, though that may come into it, but with his body language. His Almaviva ( a great aristocrat who had only just given up the droit de seigneur ) was embarrassing. He was, as so often, like he was - a nice and frank member of the middle class. Maybe that is what JV means by mannerisms.

Yet another reason for having operas semi-staged, though the main reason for that is to get rid of the designers.

J. Vaughan said...

I just re-listened to your BAL feature, and, in the passage from the Transformation in Act I, you only give us what you believe to be Sir Georg's less-than-satisfactory way of doing things, not Maestro Kubelik's more-desirable, in your opinion at least, way. So we do not get to hear the sort of rubato of which you wrote and where it occurs. So again I suppose the only wise course for me is to find the Kubelik in a library if available, and then either borrow it or, if in one where I do not have borrowing privileges, just listen.

I have begun a hopefully-complete playing of the Solti with Act I, and was re-impressed in the ways of which I wrote earlier. Based on the clip you gave of the then-presumably-future Dame Gwyneth, I would still contend that Mme Ludwig is more sensual. And I would still rather have the older-sounding Herr Frick over the younger, though finely-singing, Herr Moll. Though Herr Weikl may be a fine singer in his way, there is sometimes something for which I do not care about his voice, and Herr Fischer-Dieskau gives me all I need as Amfortas, at least for now.

I heard some of the Kaufmann broadcast, and that MIGHT prove an alternative, though we again have a younger-sounding, though well-sung, Gurnemanz in the now-ubiquitous Herr Pape.

Now if we could only have a predominantly-satisfying so-called Dresden Tannhauser as well as earlier manifestations of both of the now-standard versions.

J. V

David said...

Sir David, your views on the supposedly unaristocratic bearing of Fischer-Dieskau are well known to us; indeed, I wish I'd never given you the excellent Ponnelle film to disapprove. In any case, how many aristocrats, as opposed to mannered parvenus, do you know? Among the 'real' aristos I've met, two tipped their fag ash into their food at a New Year's Eve dinner, and one who's recently come back to our collective attention on telly beat his wife and (putatively, maybe accidentally) clubbed his children's nanny to death.

JV, DFD is third in my list of best Amfortases, second only to Van Dam and London. Weikl comes lower down, but still among the good 'uns (and there are some VERY bad ones). As for the Processional, I had to cut the desired Kubelik comparison with over-portentous Solti, but I DID go on to give Thielemann and Kna as examples of how rubato can open up the nobility there.

Voices at the highest level are always going to be a matter of taste. I love the rather strange but always instantly identifiable sound of Moll's voice - and when I asked a distinguished Gurnemanz, while listening to all the recordings, which he thought the finest, 'Moll' was the unhesitating answer. Others might cite Hotter, but I've read some wicked crits about the winding-down-old-gramophone, about-to-keel-over vocal quality of his later performances. I wish I could have my idol Norman Bailey in the Covent Garden live performance conducted by Goodall (or at least I think it's that one), but it currently retails at $1000 on Amazon so you can imagine it is VERY hard to track down.

Susan Scheid said...

David: I hesitate to follow-on in the face of the previous discussion, but I have just listened to your Parsifal CD review again, this time taking notes. Your review is incredibly rich with information, not only in your assessment of the Parsifal recordings, but also, for someone like me who is not so schooled in opera generally and certainly not Parsifal, an education in how to listen and what to listen for. Here's just one example, of your elegant phrasing, too (any transcription errors are mine, of course): "Popp also crowns the line in Kubelik's recording, which moves along the seductive encircling of Parsifal while giving the star soprano space to float her arabesques." I wouldn’t have known to listen for those arabesques without your comment.

There is one thing about which I had no question from the first moment I heard him, and that was the quality of Kurt Moll’s voice. Rene Pape was wonderful in the Met production I saw this year, but Moll’s singing I love even more. I am increasingly eager to get my hands on both the DVD you note and the Kubelik CD. (My first two attempts at the DVD failed—claimed incorrectly by the vendor as in stock—so my quest for these holy grails continues on both counts.) If the Met production I saw does land on DVD, I’ll be curious to know how you think it stacks up.

David said...

Well, Sue, you see how unshiftable Wagnerians are from their premiers amours. The Kna band are especially vocal and sound rather hurt. Solti's cohorts will not be persuaded that the master rather bumped things into action and lacked a sense of line, though I've always found that (for some reason, though, his Mozart was rather wonderful).

And you took notes, golly. J liked that arabesques bit too. They come, I think, from the Russian approach to orientalia, though goodness knows where Wagner would have heard/score-read Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila, for example.

If you want permanence, there's a podcast, which meant I didn't have to ask the Beeb for a copy.

The Met Parsifal is scheduled for release in February - that will be time to turn back to the grail. Of course our own Big Mistake is being aired worldwide tomorrow, more's the pity.

Howard Lane said...

Damn! the Parsifal CD is out of stock although I ordered it on Saturday after your broadcast. Just when I though I had my xmas shopping done. Maybe I can track down a dvd instead. Claire is off to the live broadcast tomorrow so it will be interesting to get her report back on it.

Loved the Adams City Noir (broadcast last Thursday) I heard today, following a blistering Shostakovitch Violin Concerto!

Howard Lane said...

Willym, looks like there is a choice of downlaod formats for the Kubelik Parsifal here:

David Damant said...

John Gielgud said that young men did not know how to play princes any more and I suppose that is my point.

David said...

Howard - I presume you like what you heard (of the Kubelik). Claire would have been better off staying at home with the Zurich DVD - wouldn't have cost much more - or listening to the Radio 3 L'enfance du Christ on iPlayer (though there's still time for that). Be interested in her report.

City Noir I'd like to hear again, didn't think it one of his best works at the UK premiere. But JA's Violin Concerto is blistering, too.

Sir David - Harry?? And there are more than one way to play a prince. We've left plummy Johnny way behind, I hope. I did see him once - when I was a teenager, in/as Julius Caesar at the National.

Susan Scheid said...

Alas, on the issue of permanence, we aren't permitted the podcasts this side of the pond. But I took copious notes, so those I will have! Aside re City Noir--David Robertson and the St. Louis Orchestra will be putting out a CD early next year, which will also include the Sax Concerto. I'm eager to hear both from those forces, and will be interested to know what you and Howard Lane think of the recording, should you each get hold of it. David, I was struck by your comment about Berlioz generally and vis-a-vis Parsifal. Who would be in the rest of your greatest, I wonder? (Berlioz's work is among the many enormous gaps in my musical education, which it seems I'd better correct!)

David said...

Alas, gone are the days when Elektra Nonesuch, the greatest label of the 1980s and 90s, swiftly put out each new Adams work. I'm waiting anxiously for the Jest piece (always confused in my mind whether it's Absolute or Infinite, and in too much of a hurry to check now) and I hope we get The Gospel According to the Other Mary as sound as well as DVD. But good news about the Sax Concerto.

Much as I have an odd fondness for lists, when you push me to it I realise how invidious that is. Especially if one only had five choices of composers with the greatest breadth. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven (I'd personally have that one rather reluctantly but I know he needs to be there). But then - Wagner, Berlioz, Schubert, Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky? I'd be more up to date with ten, including Britten and Adams. And none of this caters for a first love, which for me would be R Strauss, of course.

Catriona said...

David, wherever did you find the time for this AND all those Mahlers you reviewed for the BBC Music Magazine!

David said...

I don't want to lay it on thick, Catriona, but I'd add the big Strauss piece - which at least flowed, as happens when one's in possession of the subject - and the late November week with four pre-performance talks in a row. It's never been busier than this - and there were all the hospital visits too. I'm glad to say that I think I've come down gently and not with a bump. Never will Christmas seem like more of a welcome break.

Susan Scheid said...

You're right, lists, particularly if intended to be authoritative, are invidious--not to mention impossible. One of the things that I realized when I tried to answer my own question to you is that the composers I listen to most are endangered by the "oughts." I, too, encountered the quandary about Beethoven. As you say, he has to be there, but, even with Biss's eloquent passion for him, I don't tend to revisit his music very often. (Same goes for Mozart.) You had it right in your Berlioz review at TAD when you wrote, "making me wonder what on earth’s the point of compiling a "best of year" when this, along with so much else over the last 12 months, was absolutely as good as it gets."

Joe Smouha said...

Finally had the chance to catch up on your BaL – a model of its kind, if I may say so, in terms of balance of insight into the music, the performances and tension of result. I thought it was going to be Thielemann all the way! Kubelik goes on the Christmas list (and my old Karajan goes into the bin).

David said...

'Same goes for Mozart', Sue? I don't know how to draw a smiley with a downturned mouth, but that MUST be corrected. Unless you're temperamentally unsuited, there's always that (Beethoven and I are astrological opposites, apparently...)

Yes, Joe, bin the Karajan. It sounds so horrid from the start - DG had that problem with a lot of the 1980s Karajan stuff. What I wouldn't bin - quite the opposite - are his Don Carlo and Tosca. If you're a Parsifal addict, you ought to add Thielemann to Kubelik and definitely get the Haitink Zurich DVD to wash away the bloody taste of the Covent Garden horror.And thanks for very kind words.

Howard Lane said...

I now have the Haitink Parsifal DVD in lieu of the out of stock Kubelik (see how powerful your recommendations are!) but time is the factor when listening and/or watching, in that devoting a few hours to a visual experience (in the home) may be an unaffordable luxury, but audio only allows humdrum life to carry on while listening.

I'm sure it will be worth it even though Claire's ROH reaction was surprisingly close to the responder on TAD who pointed out the strong Christian symbolism of the production, and her upbringing certainly enabled her to get it quite clearly. I don't know if she agrees about the inappropriate nature of the ritual to the sacredness of the music - I think she would agree those aspects were pretty unpleasant, though it was a favourable experience overall.

BaL was amazingly informative and detailed. As a novice I have to take the script and the excerpts together, as there wasn't enough music to listen to to reach my own conclusion. This is only a criticism of the paucity of the time available given the vast amount of information you must have had to pare down to get it all in! And the cogency of your arguments in spite of that.

Like many aspects of art that one knows one likes but doesn't understand, I am often put off by vocal qualities in operatic singing which "buffs" may enjoy, a kind of stridency or artificiality, and this can be a barrier to my enjoyment, but other voices have a clear beauty that I can't analyse, only respond to.

City Noir is an interesting piece, cinematic and jazzy, not as dark and brooding as you might think from the title, but not unlike bigger sounding classic noir soundtracks. Although the sax part is pretty full on and paired with a saxophone concerto could be sax overkill. Depends a lot on the player I suppose. As the great Bonzo Dog Band said, "Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold".

David said...

Interesting: two other friends who don't succumb easily to pressure agreed with me that the grail ritual was 'just wrong'. I'd like Claire to argue it out over on the TAD comments if she feels strongly.

Points taken, especially when so eloquently put. Sue's the one to tell you how wonderful the Sax Concerto was in performance; I haven't heard it yet. I just love 'jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold'.

Have you booked for the entire family to go and see Emil and the Detectives yet? I also can't recommend too strongly the now ubiquitous but ever-fresh Matthew Bourne Swan Lake.

Susan Scheid said...

Off to pick up guests from the train, but just a quick note: re Mozart, I have a LOT of Mozart in my collection, so it's not a rejection, just not what I reach for at present. Too much else to discover that I hardly know and want to know (though there may be a temperament thing in play a bit as well). As for lists, I'm amused at myself, because of course I've been collecting year-end lists, invidious though they may be, and spotting new "must haves," for example the Pacifica Quartet Shos SQs, which I'd amazingly not spotted, and there you have the first one, when I looked back, as a pick of the month sometime back. Shame on me! On the Sax Concerto and that CD, I'm curious myself to see what I think. City Noir I've warmed to; on the Sax Concerto, I was bowled over by Timothy McAllister's virtuosity; now I have to go back and really listen to the piece!

David said...

Of course I'll succumb to a little list of best CDs, which are all indie rarities, and we must submit to some kind of concert/opera scrutiny on TAD. But events still keep giving. Just back from a Bach B minor Mass from top forces where the Sanctus was one of the most elevating things I've ever heard - it always is, but never more so than in a small hall with gleaming sound.

Are your guests the East Anglian friends and relatives? I hope they weren't too battered by the storm surge a couple of weeks ago.

wanderer said...

With the broadcast still yet to be listened to, I'm proud to say the Kubelik is on the shelf. I can't help but say Yvonne Minton is one of the few whose impact on me is permanent - my first Octavian and my introduction to Mahler with DLvDE in the Sydney Town Hall which in my memory is like yesterday.

I have sent K off the talk about bells in Parsifal.

David said...

Welcome back, Wanderer - you've been much missed and I look forward to your Twilight saga. Best telling of the Ring in print I've just come across - it's in Joachim Koehler's Wagner biography (published by my people, Yale, but I picked it up for a fiver in a charity shop). Actually it's more a revelation of all the sources Wagner tried to conceal, and how they impact on his mythmaking. But I thought the four Ring sections were absolutely brilliant. And I don't read much around RW because it's usually so angled from the writer's limited perspective.

Lucky you to see the divine Yvonne live - I think I did when she played Geschwitz, but not in her prime.

E-card winging its way to you.

wanderer said...

E-card giggle arrived after out Christmas lunch, thank you. Greetings to you both and thank you for being a major contribution to this year's fun and memories.

Yvonne Minton was also my first Fricka (ROH 1980). And she grew up just a few suburbs from where we lived on Sydney's leafy upper north shore. But The Song of the Earth was a major turning point for adolescent me.

That book sounds interesting and worthy of a look around - unravelling the myths does help to, well, demythologize it.

David said...

Never heard Yvonne's Lied von der Erde - is there a recording, I wonder? Think I only ever saw her as Geschwitz. Anyhow, her Kundry is characterful from the off - never any doubt what she's singing about.

wanderer said...

The trouble with blogger is not being able to track comments. Hence delay -

Yes, there's a great recording:

Also available on ABC Classics on Essential Minton 2CD set.

David said...

Ah, part of the Solti Mahler setup. But I can't stand his Mahler, with the exception of the Eighth. Might be worth enduring once, for La Minton.