October 2018

At the Bayreuth Festival

WAGNER: Lohengrin under Rudolf Kempe from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers. James King was a steady, sturdy singer, though less magical in sound than Harper. Among his memorable recordings are Das Lied von der Erde (with Fischer-Dieskau, Bernstein conducting) and Solti’s Ring Cycle (in which he sang Siegmund to Régine Crespin’s utterly lovable Sieglinde).
Dance

The Young and Young at Heart: Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” at the American Ballet Theater

As part of ABT’s Women’s Movement, an ongoing initiative to support the creation, exploration and staging of new works by female choreographers, the first ballet of this matinee performance was Le Jeune, choreographed by Lauren Lovette. Ten dancers from the ABT apprentice group and the ABT Studio Company danced the ten-minute long work displaying some of their considerable abilities. The arabesques, turns and lifts were lovely if not inspiring, as were the young performers. However, the music, Equus by Eric Whitacre, is awful—bombastic with many switches of rhythm that go nowhere. Lovette is credited with “costume concept” which sounds like she thought of dressing the women in pink with belts and the boys in black—again, perfectly fine but hardly revolutionary. Still, the dancers were lively, energetic and full of promise.
Theater

My Parsifal Conductor by Allan Leicht at Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA

As I wrote and revised this review. The news of the terrible shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh unfolded, reminding us that there is nothing funny about anti-Semitism. Following the hijacking of the US government in the 2016 election, so many topics any of us might use in black or tasteless humor have lost their potential for even sardonic laughter. These are grim times. (My Parsifal Conductor was clearly not made for them.) But we mustn't forget the power of satire in emergencies like the present one. As artists, it is our duty to keep people awake, and laughter, especially painful laughter, is one way to accomplish that.
HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXIII: Barenboim’s Brahms, Orozco-Estrada’s Strauss, Szell’s Walton and Stravinsky

If I tell you here is the side of Brahms which kept a score of Parsifal open on his piano, I think we are more than halfway to understanding what Daniel Barenboim has tried to do with this composer and now achieves more fully and authentically than in his Chicago Symphony cycle recorded for Erato several decades ago. The Staatskapelle Berlin has always been a Brahms orchestra of the old school, as Otmar Suitner’s 1984 digital cycle for Berlin Classics, recorded in the Lukaskirche, wonderfully demonstrated, but Barenboim has maintained and encouraged its nutty/creamy sonority to new levels of evocative lushness and subtle woodwind tone coloration. He doesn’t aim to compete for brilliance with the Berlin Philharmonic. Indeed, the sound here boasts a theatrical darkness and elision, first, foremost and nearly always. I imagine this still resembles the burnished sonority my German father heard in Berlin before the First World War.
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