Briefly Noted (II)

What "Briefly Noted" is.

Elmar Oliveira gives authoritative performances of substantial violin concertos by Ernest Bloch and Benjamin Lees (Artek AR-0042-2). Both of these works, while providing plenty of opportunities for virtuosic workouts, are in the serious, concerto-as-symphony-for-soloist-and-orchestra. The accompaniment of John McLaughlin Williams and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine matches Mr. Olivieira's impassioned playing and provides for him a solid foundation.

Isabel Bayrakdarian sings songs transcribed by Gomidas Vartabed, "the most important figure in Armenian music history" (from Atom Egoyan's notes) on a lovely release from Nonesuch (511487-2). The songs, arranged for orchestra or piano by Serouj Kradjian (who plays the piano accompaniment) are generally introspective and pensive. Ms Bayrakdarian, a Canadian-Armenian soprano, sings them with warm expression.

Neeme Järvi leads the Scottish National Orchestra and its Chorus (with contralto soloist Linda Finnie) in rousing performances of music by Sergey Prokofiev, on a digitally remastered release of late 1980s recordings on Chandos 10482 X. The big piece here is the Suite from the score to Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, which I've described elsewhere as "a big, friendly, kind of stupid, fluffy dog of a piece". I find it a little less so in this duskier reading, but I think it's still an apt metaphor for the composer's music in the out-sized mode of Nevsky and of the other works on the disc, the Scythian Suite and the Suite from The Steel Dance.

Johannes Moser plays the complete works for cello and orchestra of Camille Saint-Saëns with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Fabrice Bolton conducting, on hänssler classic 93.222. This is not is my wheelhouse, repertoirely-speaking, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I particularly like the First Concerto (a minor, Op. 33), with its taut, convincing one-movement form. Moser is a fine musician--he really digs in to this music, playing with understanding and panache.

Richard Stoltzman has been one of the world's premiere clarinetists for years. With Tashi, he made a definitive recording of Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps. A new disc from Navona (NV5801) has him playing short pieces by Carl Maria von Weber (Concertino), Giovanni Bottesini (Duetto, with Richard Frederickson on bass), and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Herbstlied, arranged for clarinet and string quartet by Toru Takemitsu). In addition Stoltzman gives a commanding performance of Weber's second Clarinet Concerto (Eb, Op. 74). The highlight for me, though, is his richly expressive reading of Claude Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie (1909-10). The Rhapsodie is a great introduction to the composer's work, with its long lines and lanquid harmonies. Stoltzman emphasizes the piece's melodic content, and Kirk Trevor leads the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in sensitive preformances of all of the music on the disc.


Veteran's Day 2008

We celebrate Veteran's Day in the United States on 11 November because that is when the Armistice that ends the First World War was signed.

There are lots of reasons World War II is studied more than World War I--most of them are legitimate and some (more footage, for example) are because the Second World War is easier to study.

I've never been able to shake the idea, however, that one very big reason World War I is not talked about is that it is an utterly pointless war--nothing was won, nothing was decided, millions were killed, and the stage was set for greater carnage and unspeakable horror.

And being utterly pointless, it's a typical war. The Civil War and the Second World War decided great issues and produced substantive victories. That's not the norm for war--most of them are exercises in murderous nihilism, the result of mistakes and tragic errors.

So, we study the "good" wars so that when somebody looks at us the wrong way, the image the populace has of war is that of a great endeavor, of national purpose played out on the world stage. That way, it is easier to convince the people that war is necessary.

And it is, obviously, the men and women of the service that pay the biggest, sometimes the ultimate price for this. The committment it takes to sign up for the military is beyond most of us, and those that can serve deserve our respect, and they deserve our effort in understanding the reasons they are called to combat, not passive acceptance of the call. It's really the least we can do.

Reading for the day:

Richard Powers, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.


Benjamon Britten, War Requiem.


Cage: Number Pieces

Audio-DVD review, Sequenza21.

Liberality of Spirit

The critic John Leonard died earlier this week, at 69, of lung cancer.

When I first started writing music criticism I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and eagerly awaited his appearances on CBS' Sunday Morning, where he usually reviewed television shows. He was a fine stylist--his long, looping sentences were characterized by Whitmanesque lists and elegant punctuation.

The title of this little post is taken from A. O. Scott's appreciation in yesterday's New York Times.

FSU Opera: Clemenza di Tito

NOTE: Due to a dispute between the paper and Florida State University, this review was not printed in the Democrat.

An opera lives and dies by its music. A production of an opera, taking this truism a step further, lives and dies by the singing. If Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito (1791, libretto by Caterino Mazzolà after Pietro Metastasio) depended on its story (spoiler alert: the title gives away the ending) we likely wouldn’t see it performed outside of completist Mozart festivals.

Clemenza contains some of Mozart’s most beautiful music, however, as was demonstrated in the Florida State Opera’s production this past weekend at Opperman Music Hall. Stage Director Matthew Lata and Scenic and Lighting Designer Peter Dean Beck provided a talented cast with a vital setting from which to project the music, music that goes far deeper into character and its expression that the story demands.

JamisonWalker was a convincing and charismatic Tito, emperor of this production’s mid-20th-century Rome. He got off to a slow start, having a little trouble with pitch in his early scenes, but he recovered nicely for his central role in the second act. Tito’s right-hand man Publio was sung and acted with authority by Young Ju Lee.

Emma Char (as Sesto) and Rachel Hendrickson (Annio) gave solid performances in their difficult “trouser” roles (male characters played by women), and Rebecca Shorstein was radiant in the supporting role of Servilia.

But the evening belonged to Christina Villaverde as Vitellia, the driving force of the story. Ms. Villaverde has a very strong, attractive voice and compelling stage presence to go along with it.

The chorus was solid and well-prepared. FSU Director of Opera Activities, Douglas Fisher, seems to have Mozart in his blood. He led the Opera Orchestra in a well paced, tightly-knit performance. Of special note was the clarinet playing of Julie Schumacher, whose many solos were delivered with flair.


4 Nov 08

Happy Days Are Here Again!

One of the most moving nightas of my life.