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Franz Schubert

Friday, May 26, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 18

How the Berlin Philharmonic sounds from the inside

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc Our diarist Anthea Kreston made her debut last week in the viola section of the Berlin Philharmonc Orchestra. Here’s how it felt from her seat. I am waiting to board my flight to Krakow – one of the many quartet concerts which sprinkle throughout this loose six-month sabbatical. And it does feel like a sabbatical of sorts – the flexibility of schedule allows for a great variety of activities – musical and other. This week we got the keys to our new home – a newly refurbished home built in the 30’s, nestled among a lush green landscape – apple trees in the backyard, a line of raspberry bushes bordering the side of the property. In the back, down a small path, is a little lake, a wooded park, a horse farm. We can travel together by bike through this park to school, or to the S Bahn station which can get us to the heart of the city in 20 minutes. This may be the little link to our bucolic past which will allow us to breath fully, expand into endless hours of magical play in the woods. My week with the Berlin Philharmonic is at an end, and I am still riding the high of the performances, the happiness of meeting new people and finding inspiration from that undulating, breathing organism made up of 120 of the most talented musicians from every corner of the planet. Although I have been kindly asked from not commenting on my time within the orchestra, they have allowed me to give a reaction to the performances – a kind of internal concert review. To look around the orchestra during performance – to see the concentration, delight, and passion on the faces and in the movements of the musicians was a thing to behold. I have seen many great orchestras perform before, but the freedom of movement, the dedication to line and nuance, far surpassed any experience I have had. Under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, the orchestra was in turn tightly controlled, as well as allowed to roam free – with the internal hierarchy of concertmaster/leaders of sections communicating with one another to create a flow which was generated from within. People’s eyes were trained on the concertmaster (the American Noah Bendix-Balgley, pictured below), the leaders of their sections, the constant weavings of solos coming from every corner of the orchestra. They breathed together, allowed for breath to happen. The soloist in the Shostakovich Cello Concerto was Gautier Capuçon, a cellist with remarkable strength – both of character and physical control. He is a regular Schubert Quintet partner of my quartet, but my first meeting with him was thwarted this season because of upheavals in Istanbul, where our concert was scheduled. His encore – Casals’ Song of the Birds, played together with the cello section of the Philharmonic, was ethereal and transportive – the sounds of cellos working as one was felt deeply in our chests, as we sympathetically resonated together. Heldenleben was the meat of the meal, ingested with hungry ears and hearts after a generous intermission. Again – a freedom of line prevailed – and the ensuing passion driven by the orchestra, supported by our director firmly yet with a large degree of trust, allowed the orchestra to soar. To feel the trust of the conductor – to know they believe in you, and not only allow but encourage individual expression – this is what laid the groundwork for a living, breathing interpretation of this tone poem – the semi-autobiographical “Hero’s Life” – gargantuan in scope as well as the demands on every member of the orchestra. At the end of Ein Heldenleben, with the final chord by the brass and winds coming to a stop, there was a silence, a long silence, in which the conductor seemed as if unable to return to this world – he had taken us, or rather we had gone together, to a magical place, and no one was ready to come back. The audience was with us – every seat filled and rows of standing listeners. We stayed, all together, slowly returning to this world, and a thunderous and sustained applause brought us all back – here we are, in Berlin, 2017, and we have indeed all gone together to a different place, and have experienced something that could not have been experienced anywhere else. What a glorious time. The concert can be seen in full on the Digital Concerthall.

Royal Opera House

May 16

Six of the best: Ballets by William Forsythe

Marcelino Sambé in rehearsal for The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, The Royal Ballet © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Very few choreographers have changed ballet as greatly as choreographer William Forsythe , whose radical works in the 1980s and beyond have brought a fiercely contemporary perspective to an art form often defined by its traditions. Crystal Pite has said that working with Forsythe at Ballet Frankfurt ‘changed everything’ , citing his recklessness and commitment to pursuing new choreographic ideas. We've picked six of his most vital works and what makes them so important: Artifact ‘Step inside’, says our host, wearing a Baroque dress. ‘Welcome to what you think you see.’ Forsythe’s first work for Ballet Frankfurt, created in 1984, was a prodigious beginning. Music by Bach , Ballet Frankfurt’s rehearsal pianist Eva Crossman-Hecht and Forsythe himself accompanies a work that glances back at tradition – not just to the Baroque but also to the more recent choreographic age of George Balanchine and his influential abstract dance – while also reinventing it. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated His directorship of Ballet Frankfurt put Forsythe on the map, but the work that became his international breakthrough was made for another company. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was a 1987 creation for Rudolf Nureyev ’s Paris Opera Ballet , including a young star dancer of the company, Sylvie Guillem . To a propulsive electronic score by Thom Willems , In the Middle… sends its nine dancers through an astonishing series of variations, rearranging recognizably classical steps in strikingly modern combinations. Impressing the Czar ‘You can’t make a full-length ballet any more, because that’s something that was made in another era’, Forsythe once claimed in an interview about Impressing the Czar. So what to do instead? ‘You make something that looks like a full-length ballet!’ This ‘fake’ work was created for Ballet Frankfurt in 1988. In three highly contrasting sections, the work begins with a lavish look at ballet history before In the Middle… returns as the central section. It closes with ‘Bongo Bongo Nageela’ , a pounding piece for 40 dancers dressed as Catholic schoolgirls storming around the stage. Choreographic Objects As well as choreographing stage works, Forsythe has been highly active in the creation of what he calls ‘Choreographic Objects’. More like art installations than works for theatrical performance, the choreography is created as objects and viewers interact. A chestnut tree in a town square vibrates as people sit beneath ; a bouncy castle joyously destabilizes its visitors . ‘You have to move to know’ , said Forsythe of an exhibition of his in Frankfurt: movement remains at the heart of his work, but this is movement that’s not just for professionals. Quintett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dlFx2cXuNc ‘Bill is Balanchine on steroids’, said Forsythe dancer and stager Thomas McManus . In a longer abstract work like Quintett the similarities come out quite clearly: it is a poetic celebration of both the dancers and the music, which in this case is Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Forsythe made Quintett for Ballet Frankfurt in 1993, and Bryars’s music – containing a melody sung by an anonymous homeless man, repeated many times – creates a deeply emotive context in which the five dancers move in and out of partnerships and solos. The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude The cultured classicism of Schubert ’s Ninth Symphony is a contrast to some of Forsythe’s other musical choices, but its joyful finale provides the basis for The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude , a 1996 work for five dancers created for Ballet Frankfurt. ‘Apparently it has a reputation of being extremely difficult to dance’, Forsythe innocently admits – but that is part of its point, as it at once challenges its dancers and celebrates the breathtaking extremes to which classical technique can be pushed. Rigid, circular tutus, designed by former Forsythe dancer Stephen Galloway , are the perfect complement to this playfully radical revision of ballet tradition. The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude runs 18–31 May 2017. Tickets are still available.




Classical iconoclast

May 14

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered - SOMM

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts  of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall.  Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings. Bruno Walter accompanies Ferrier in two Schubert and two Brahms songs.  Walter was a major influence on Ferrier, developing her style and repertoire and bring her to international prominence.  Reputedly, she was so overcome rehearsing for Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde that she wept inconsolably.  Perhaps it was that emotional directness that Walter recognized  that convinced him that the relatively unknown young singer had potential.  In these songs, recorded in the Edinburgh studios of the BBC, Ferrier's sincerity shines, though her delivery is more enthusiastic than refined.  But that was part of her charm. Walter responds in kind, his playing particularly free and invigorating. Ferrier's recordings of Mahler's Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder are classics, but on this disc, she sings Urlicht, from Mahler's Symphony no 2.  This recording was made on 28th September 1950.  The following year,  Ferrier sang the part with full orchestra  in the recording of the symphony with Otto Klemperer and Jo Vincent in Amsterdam.  Here she sings the version for piano and voice, so the closer focus concentrates attention on the voice and its distinctive colouring.  Her vibrato is used to evoke fragility, in keeping with the nature of the piece.  A worthwhile addition to the discography, since she didn't record this version for Decca.  Apart from one track on this disc - C Hubert Parry's Love is a bable op 152/3 with Gerald Moore -  all the other selections feature Ferrier with Frederick Stone.  Ferrier sang a lot of Schubert and Wolf,  her contralto richness is most effective in Brahms.  Her Sonntag op 47/3 here, recorded in December 1949, is particularly impressive. Although Ferrier found fame, she was, at heart, down-to-earth and unaffected, rather like the "Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein" standing by her doorway, innocently capturing hearts.  For this reason, perhaps, Ferrier is often most endearing when she sings traditional songs in the English language.  This remastering makes Parry's Love is a Bable bright and shiny! On this SOMM disc, we have Edmund Rubbra's Three Psalms op 61, which Ferrier recorded for Decca with Ernest Lush, in performance with Frederick Stone, from 1947.  The piano settings are minimal, displaying the voice unadorned, suggesting private prayer.  In Psalm 150, Rubbra writes extravagant lines, which let Ferrier's voice fly exuberantly free. SOMM has also uncovered a special rarity: Maurice Jacobson's Song of Songs, quite probably the original recording, which has lain in the BBC sound archives long known but hitherto unreleased. The text comes from the Book of Solomon, and the setting makes clear reference to Jewish tradition. 



Classical iconoclast

May 9

Matthias Goerne Schumann Einsamkeit

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi.  Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive.  The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.  If the breathiness that once made his style so immediate is gone, that's more than made up for by the authority with which he now sings. In this recording, the lustre of the voice combines with  Goerne's truly exceptional powers of interpretation : an ideal channel for a composer like Schumann, whose genius, surprisingly, is still underestimated.  Many of the songs in this collection come from the composer's later years, sometimes unappreciated because the style changes, heading toward new pathways.  Schumann was well informed, aware of new currents in cultural life. Certainly he knew Wagner, but Wagner and Schumann were probably heading in different directions. Goerne has been interested in late Schumann for many years, and sang many of these songs in his concert at the Wigmore Hall in 2015 with Menahem Pressler, where the songs were presented in the context of late Schumann piano pieces.  (Please read more about that here  because it is important to consider the songs in relation to the piano works so dear to Schumann's soul). This recording, thus, is a must for anyone genuinely interested in Schumann beyond the "greatest hits" for it shows how Schumann remained a creative force, despite encroaching illness, an illness that might possibly be better understood today, which might have extended his creative years. Nikolaus von LenauSchumann's op 90, to poems by Nikolaus von Lenau, were written in August 1850.   Goerne and Hinterhäuser began with Mein Rose, the second song in the set, evoking the fragrance of love song which makes Dichterliebe an enduring masterpiece.  Goerne's voice though formidably powerful, can also be remarkably tender.  The gentle lilt of Die Sennin suggests warm summer breezes wafting the herdgirl's songs down from alpine meadows to the valley. It's a song in which tenors excel, but Goerne captures its sunlit radiance.  Then Einsamkeit, where the mood darkens. Under the densely overgrown spruce trees, "Still hier der Geist der Liebe", deep, hopeless love. Thus we're prepared for Requiem, the seventh and last song in Schumann's op 90.  The Requiem sets a text by an anonymous poet, which is rather apt since the poem deals with the annihilation of personality that is death.  The piano part is soothing, the lines long and sedate, but Goerne's artistry brings out the undercurrent of tragedy that lies beneath the conventional,piety the text. We remain in the pensive solitude of Der Einsledler op 83/3 (Eichendorff) , also from 1850, before looking back on the past with a few songs from Myrthen (Heine) op 24 from 1840, the glorious Liederjahre in which Schumann's genius for vocal music suddenly blossomed, inspired, perhaps by his marriage to Clara.  Die Lotousblume and Du bist wie eine blume are sensuous, Goerne's voice imparting tenderness as well as desire.  Provocatively, though Goerne and Hinterhäuser interrupt the floral reverie two Rückert songs, Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint op 37/1 and Mein schöner Stern !"  op,101/4 from Minnespeil, a collection from 1849 for different combinations of voices, reminding us of Schumann's interests in larger vocal forms.  It feels as though a chill has descended upon the spring blooms, just as Schumann himself would experience disruption. Nachtlied op 96/1, to the famous text by Goethe, is in Schumann's setting, much more haunted than Schubert's.   Wifried von der NeunGoerne and Hinterhäuser then return to 1850, with the complete set of Sechs 6 Gesänge op 89 to poems by a strange man who used the pen name of Wilfried von der Neun,  "Wilfred of The Nine", meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote "the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one."  The songs aren't premier cru : Schumann with his exquisite taste in poetry must have had a bad day.  Nonetheless,  Goerne and Hinterhäuser give such a fine performance that definitely justifies the prominence given to therm on this disc.  Lesser musicians beware. Though not ideal, these songs are worth knowing because they demonstrate Schumann's willingness to explore new directions.  ams is the source to go for studying these songs, for he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör' ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe.  Sams said "Schumann's memory is playing him tricks". Moreover, this set was written close to the time Schumann wrote the superb Lenau set op 90 with which Goerne and Hinterhäuser began this recording.  This shows that Schumann's powers were not failing. Like most creative people he wasn't afraid to take risks.  It may be significant, though, that Lenau had some kind of mental breakdown in 1844, aged only 42, and spent the rest of his life incarcerated in an asylum.  this recording ends with Abendlied op 107/6 from Sechs Gesänge (1851–52) to a poem by Gottfried Kinkel.  The song is dignified, an exercise in balance and  refinement. Listen to how Goerne shapes the lines, flowing smoothly from very high notes to very low. The song demonstrates his range and technical ability, but even more impressively his grasp of emotional subtlety.  As night falls, the world sinks into darkness. But the stars appear "in Majestät". The poet hears "the footsteps of angels" and the advance of a golden, celestial chariot "in gleichen, festem gleise".  No wonder the song ends, not with gloom but firm resolve."Wirf ab, Herz, was dich kränket und was dir bange macht". Definitely not "alone" in Einsamkeit.   

Royal Opera House

May 8

Ballet Essentials: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude / Tarantella / Strapless / Symphonic Dances

Natalia Osipova as Amélie Gautreau and Matthew Ball as Albert de Belleroche in Strapless, The Royal Ballet © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper A mix of dances Four contrasting works show the breadth of contemporary ballet in The Royal Ballet’s mixed programme . Two classic 20th-century shorts from American choreographers precede longer works by Royal Ballet associated choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett . The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude William Forsythe has played a crucial role in re-shaping ballet for the 21st century; alumni of his Ballet Frankfurt company include choreographers David Dawson and Crystal Pite . The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was created in 1996 for Ballett Frankfurt and is set to the final movement of Schubert ’s Ninth Symphony. While it is notoriously difficult to dance, The Vertiginous Thrill is always perfectly in tune with Schubert’s graceful score. ‘People get involved with the steps’, Forsythe comments, ‘which are finally of absolutely no value without musicality.’ Tarantella George Balanchine ’s Tarantella packs a lot into its six minutes. This dizzyingly fast miniature, set to Louis Moreau Gottschalk ’s delightful Grande Tarantelle, makes huge demands of its two dancers’ stamina even while they make it look as easy as a walk in the park. They flirt, leap, spin and even beat a tambourine before they scamper off again, arm-in-arm, as suddenly as they arrived. Strapless When Amélie Gautreau commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint her portrait in 1883, both artist and sitter believed the work would ensure their fame. But Sargent’s painting of the glamorous socialite daringly depicted her with one strap fallen from her shoulder, which scandalized polite society. Amélie was ruined. Christopher Wheeldon’s 2016 ballet, revived here for the first time, re-creates the belle époque era of Amélie and Sargent, as well as their respective lovers. With a commissioned score by Anna Nicole composer Mark-Anthony Turnage , Strapless is the story of a scandal that rocked the art world. Symphonic Dances Liam Scarlett has been drawn to Rachmaninoff ’s music several times before – including for his 2012 work Sweet Violets for The Royal Ballet. ‘The more you listen to it, the more you realize its complexity’ , he says, and for his latest Royal Ballet commission the choreographer has chosen to set the Russian composer’s magisterial Symphonic Dances as an abstract ballet for a large group of dancers. The key central role is shared by Zenaida Yanowsky , soon to retire from the Royal Opera House main stage , and Scarlett’s regular collaborator Laura Morera . The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude / Tarantella / Strapless / Symphonic Dances runs 18–31 May 2017. Tickets are still available. The mixed programme is staged with generous philanthropic support from The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund . Symphonic Dances is given with generous philanthropic support from Simon and Virginia Robertson, Victoria Robey and the New Scarlett Production Syndicate , with additional philanthropic support from the JP Jacobs Charitable Trust. Christopher Wheeldon’s Position as Artistic Associate is generously supported by Kenneth and Susan Green, and Strapless is given with generous philanthropic support from Mr and Mrs Edward Atkin CBE.

Franz Schubert
(1797 – 1828)

Franz Schubert (January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer. Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies (including the famous "Unfinished Symphony"), liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. Appreciation of his music during his lifetime was limited, but interest in Schubert's work increased dramatically in the decades following his death at the age of 31. Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn, among others, discovered and championed his works in the 19th Century. Today, Schubert is admired as one of the leading exponents of the early Romantic era in music and he remains one of the most frequently performed composers.



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