Tag Archive: Robert Schumann

Pianist Christina Kobb plays Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Liszt in her Carnegie Hall Debut

Pianist Christina Kobb

I recently heard three piano programs, almost back-to-back, in Weill Hall. Each pianist produced a strikingly different sound from the same instrument, Weill’s beautiful house Steinway. The pianists and their programs were so very different that  it is not so very difficult to resist the temptation to discuss them in a single review, although there are some common threads, for example Romanticism and Schubert. In fact, you’ll find I’m writing rather a lot about those subjects at the moment.

A Crop of Recordings XIII: Richard Strauss, Hans Rott, Alberto Ginastera, Robert Schumann, and Gabriel Fauré

Alberto Ginastera with Cat

This is a groundbreaking recording—and a wonderful one! I first became aware of Elektra on an old Fritz Reiner/Inge Borkh LP of excerpts. The unusual violence of Strauss’s harmonies appealed to my teenage ears. Not long after, Georg Solti taped the complete opera, though without, I felt, the same crushing power from the podium as Reiner. But the sound of the orchestral score remained with me, and I always hoped someone would put together a suite. It’s taken 54 years in my case—but here it is!

Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle at Carnegie Hall, October 2014 — The Russians win.

Sir Simon on the podium

The periodic visits of the Berlin Philharmonic are events most New York music lovers look forward to with keen anticipation, not least myself. I’d even have gone to the Carnegie Hall Opening Night Gala, if that were their only concert in the City this season, to hear the Bruch Violin Concerto and Anne-Sophie Mutter once more, but fortunately that was not necessary. The following evening they played the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, one of his works I particularly admire and enjoy, and the complete Firebird, only excerpted in the gala program, and that second program offered more. In fact they played four concerts at Carnegie and one at the Park Avenue Armory, a very earnest one, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, complete with costumes and staging by Peter Sellars.

Marek Janowski Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Schumann’s Manfred Overture, Rhenish Symphony and the Brahms Double Concerto with Steinbacher and Gerhardt

Marek Janowski.

It has been about a hundred years now since classical composers automatically turned to literature for inspiration. Walt Whitman was perhaps the last universal philosopher of the written word to appeal widely to musicians. Expansive, idealistic compositions by Vaughan Williams (A Sea Symphony), Delius (Sea Drift), Hindemith (“When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”) and many others are still vividly with us to prove the point… But in the decades since, our culture has veered off in realistic, therapeutic and scientific directions. Self-actualization of the dramatic sort depicted in romantic verse now seems naive and self-indulgent to us. We do not model ourselves any more on sweeping literary notions of heroism, duty and suicide. They embarrass us slightly.  And this probably explains why one doesn’t very often come across Fountainhead Symphonies, featuring Howard Roark standing naked at the edge of a cliff, or tone poems devoted to Portnoy’s activities of self-discovery in the coat closet. Occasionally, somebody still thinks of himself with sufficient grandiosity to try pulling off a musical Hamlet or Macbeth, but these days we take it all with a grain of salt. Narcissism has migrated to opera, where it can become camp.

Elena Xanthoudakis Sings Rare Romantic Lieder with Jason Xanthoudakis, Clarinet and Clemens Leske, Piano

With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s opera of the Orpheus myth L’anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called “The Shepherd and the Mermaid” of some of their finds (which I haven’t yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner’s version of von Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the ‘net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.

Two Hearts, Four Hands are Better Than One: Two Piano Recital with Pascal and Ami Rogé

While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or ‘voices’ where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for ‘four hands’ is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife’s edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments,’ though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can’t express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.

Two at Davies Hall: San Francisco Symphony/Conlon; Staatskapelle Dresden/Harding

A tale of two orchestras, two conductors, two soloists, several accents, two continents… Indeed. Two recent musical evenings, performed back to back by our own San Francisco Symphony under James Conlon, and by the legendary Dresden Staatskapelle, on tour with Daniel Harding, were highly revealing of the differences which can still exist in the identity, tradition and manner of orchestras. By programming emotionally mainstream works, containing few neuroses or cataclysms, both conductors necessarily brought the focus of the audience’s attention to beauty of execution, national perceptions of orchestral warmth and tone painting, and to their own manner of leadership.

Two Song Recitals: Mark Padmore and Felicity Lott

Sterling or plate? Great singers will always be rare, and if they take up German lieder, their scarcity reaches the vanishing point. In the opera house one never has to worry about a shortage of cheers from, well, people who don’t know any better. But lieder aficionados are specialists. A singer faces a hall, usually small, packed with sharp tastes and sharper tongues. I am of that breed. It’s not something I care to put on my resume when I give an account of my soul to Saint Peter, but no doubt I’ll make a remark about the acoustics in Paradise and spoil my chances anyway. Acoustically, London has some fine small halls, the most golden being Wigmore and Cadogan, the latter a miraculous accident when it opened in the nineties, since the building’s original use was as a Christian Science church. London appears equally lucky in the number of dedicated song recitalists it contains, but there’s the rub.

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