Tag Archive: Saint-Saëns

Verlaine and Ten Composers: Exquisite Poetry, Exquisite Singing, Exquisite Playing

Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Album / Oronoz.

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

A Crop Of Recordings V: French Rarities by Emmanuel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Bizet, Magnard, Duparc and Berlioz

Maurice Emmanuel in the 1930s. Photo from Bibliothèque Musicale Mahler, fonds Maurice Emmanuel

Every so often a release comes along which serves to remind listeners that a particular national repertory is not always so well known to us as we think. Not all beloved works cross the pond. This has a lot to do with immediacy and easily recognizable, iconic tunes.

Yan Pascal Tortelier leads the San Francisco Symphony in a French Program: Bizet, Ravel, and Saint-Saëns, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano, and Jonathan Dimmock, organ

Yan Pascal Tortelier

Yan Pascal Tortelier was levitating with exuberance last Friday.

Every good conductor shows passion, of course, even those untempted by choreography. But audiences love the ones who take to the air and defy gravity—most famously Leonard Bernstein, who did so wildly and erotically—but also the occasional anomaly. I once witnessed long-gone Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling, famously reserved, conduct Respighi’s Roman Festivals in his seventies, leaping about the Carnegie Hall stage like a red devil from Hades. Only the trident was missing.

Andris Nelsons in Boston…with Two Superb Concerts under the BSO’s New Assistant Conductor, Ken-David Masur, and an Appreciation of James Levine

Cellist Gautier Capucon, BSO principal violist Steven Ansell, and Andris Nelsons take their bows following their performance of Strauss's Don Quixote. Photo Michael Blanchard.

Andris Nelsons has garnered a lot of attention during his first season as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—much coverage in the local and even national press; receptions for the public and an exhibition with a talking hologram at Symphony Hall; placards on buses around Boston and in the subway. He threw out a ball for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The BSO organization wants him talked about by the man and woman on the street—especially the younger set. It remains to be seen whether a new younger audience will be drawn to the BSO. Eventually, it’s the music that will matter, not publicity.

Saint-Saëns’ Other Grand Opera, Henry VIII at Bard

Saint-Saëns' Henry VIII, Jennifer Holloway as Anne Boleyn, Ellie Dehn as Catherine of Aragon, American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. Photo Cory Weaver.

One of the valuable things the Bard Music Festival teaches its audiences is just how arbitrary the classical canon is. While that can’t be said of Wagner or Elgar, we learned that Prokofiev and Sibelius are most visible in concert programs and recordings through works which are not necessarily their most personal or interesting, or perhaps even their best. As managers, virtuosi, and critics grind the classical sausage from a noble saucisson de Lyon into a hot dog, the nature of the classical loses its individuality and becomes uniform and bland. The fame of Camille Saint-Saëns, on the other hand, is linked to virtually no work at all — perhaps the Carnival of the Animals or the “Organ” Symphony, which is not really performed all that often today. This immaculate work acquired a bad reputation among critics, largely because it is extraordinarily loud in places — just the right places to produce wild applause from an audience — far too effectively for the tastes of the snobbish American critics of the late 1950s and 1960s, when it had two especially potent advocates, Charles Munch and Paul Paray. Curiously, Saint-Saëns has a bad reputation as an opera composer, although another one of his few works in the standard repertory, his Samson et Dalila, is an opera.

Chabrier’s Le Roi malgré lui, a Forgotten Comic Masterpiece, at Bard Summerscape, July 27-August 5, 2012

This year Bard Summerscape’s annual opera and operetta are fused into one in Emmanuel Chabrier’s Le roi malgré lui, a true opéra comique, written for the homonymous theater in Paris. In this genre, with which Leon Botstein indulged New York audiences with Bizet’s Djamileh this past spring, the effervescent humor we associate with operetta meets the more careful writing and construction of opera. As delightful as Djamileh was—and it did offer something more substantial than the Strausses, Offenbach, and Gilbert and Sullivan—Le roi malgré lui is in a different league. Chabrier painstakingly worked over a worse than mediocre play of the 1830’s, transforming it into a psychologically convincing and witty libretto and setting it to original, even daring music, such as only he could write, to create a sophisticated, forward-looking operatic work. As I go through what has been written about the opera and its composer, everyone who knows it exudes a warm affection and intellectual respect for both.

The Bard Summer Music Festival 2012: Saint-Saëns and his World

See also: “Orientalism in France: Leon Botstein and the ASO play Saint-Saëns, Franck, Ravel, Delage, and Bizet’s one-act opera, Djamileh at Carnegie Hall” Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) is, like his friend Franz Liszt, an exemplary subject for the Bard Summer Music…
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