“If only I had known it could be done like this!” So enthused Brahms the first time he heard Dvořák’s Cello Concerto—then as now probably the greatest work for cello and orchestra ever written. “If only Brahms could hear this performance,” I’m tempted to say! Thomas Dausgaard seems to have a musical green thumb. Touch something and it springs to life with unexpected flips of energy and color—Schubert and Schumann Symphonies with his Swedish Chamber Orchestra only among the most recent successes.
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 special sound of the Orchestre de Paris playing in the splendid Salle Pleyel was still fresh in my ears, when the latest crop of releases from Pristine Classical arrived, offering recordings of Pierre Monteux conducting the "Orchestre Symphonique de Paris" in the Salle Pleyel itself. The most important of these extremely rare 78 sets, made between January 1929 and February 1930, is a complete Sacre du Printemps, the earliest of the seven live or studio recordings, which have been released of Monteux performances. This brings us within two decades of the historic 1913 premiere with the Ballets Russes. Monteux’s authority in this score never diminished, and the performances from the end of his life are as vital as this early effort and are still revered today. Like the later ones, this performance is marked by its flow and coherence—a complete grasp of the shape and drama of the great ballet, which give the performance a sense of unity, without compromising its angular rhythms and its vivid, often harsh colors and textures. You will never hear a Sacre more musical than any of Monteux’s recordings.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller's commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? - May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I've settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.