Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Classics: Remembering Rafael Kubelik, Josef Krips, and Rudolf Kempe


BEDRICH SMETANA: The Bartered Bride:
Overture; Polka; Furiant; Dance of the Comedians

Philharmonia Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. EMI, recorded 1951

by Ken

With no particular rhyme or reason, as I explained in Friday night's preview, we're hearing snatches of treasures I found in an embarrassingly large order I just received from that indispensable repository of (mostly but by no means only) classical cut-out and overstock CDs and DVDs, the Berkshire Record Outlet. These particular snatches spotlight three "K" conductors. I'm especially fond of their solidly grounded musicianship, making music from the inside rather than imposing external "rules" or playing for crowd-grabbing "effects."

Friday night we heard orchestral excerpts by Berlioz and Hindemith from a four-CD "portrait" of the wonderful Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996, seen here around the time he was music director of the Chicago Symphony, 1950-53) drawing on his early recordings for EMI, Mercury, and Decca. I thought we'd start out today's wider sampling by listening to some of my favorite music, the Overture and Dances from Bedrich Smetana's comic opera The Bartered Bride (which in fact we already heard back in a November 2009 post, "It's not for nothing that Smetana was dubbed 'the father of Czech music'").


There were two items of Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976). There was another dirt-cheap four-CD compilation, in this case gathering Kempe's late stereo recordings with the Munich Philharmonic of the four Brahms symphonies and of the Bruckner Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, and there was the January 1956 Met broadcast of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier -- one of the five operas Kempe conducted during his two Met seasons, 1955-56 and 1956-57, all of which were broadcast.


We'll come back to Kempe. First I thought we'd hear two more excerpts from the 1961 Bayreuth Festival broadcast of Wagner's Die Meistersinger conducted by that singularly humane conductor Josef Krips (1902-1974).

I haven't actually listened to the whole of the Meistersinger performance yet -- and I'm not sure in any case I would want to be showcasing this cast, but I thought we might hear excerpts from Acts I and III that focus on the good music-loving citizens of medieval Nuremberg, who (it could be argued) are the true protagonists of the piece.

WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg): Act I, Prelude and Opening Chorus, "Da zu dir der Heiland kam" ("When the savior came to thee")

I'm always curious to hear how conductors handle the transitionless plunge from the end of the Prelude to the opening chorale of the congregation of St. Catherine's. Broadly speaking, the Prelude proper can end either in a dignified climax or a riot of excitement, and the congregants -- singing their hymn to St. John on the eve of his name day -- can either enter in a spirit of pious hymnifying or burst in in a frenzy of excited remembrance. Either possibility for the first can be paired with either possibility for the second, provided the choices are all executed with conviction. Krips goes for maximum exuberance in the peroration of the Prelude -- and then even more exuberance for the outburst of the St. Catherine's worshippers.
The curtain rises on the interior of St. Catherine's Church, Nuremberg, in diagonal section; the nave is supposed to extend towards the back of the stage, to the left; only the last few rows of pews are visible. In the last row EVA and MAGDALENE are sitting. Standing on one side by a pillar is WALTHER VON STOLZING, at some distance from the ladies, gazing at EVA. EVA turns round several times toward the knight. During the following chorale the two young people exchange glances and gestures.

THE CONGREGATION: When the Savior came to thee,
willingly accepted thy baptism,
offered Himself up to a sacrificial death,
He gave the covenant for our salvation
that we might consecrate ourselves through His baptism
so as to be worthy of His sacrifice.
Noble Baptist!
Christ's precursor!
Receive us graciously
there by the river Jordan.

Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Josef Krips, cond. Live performance, 1961

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg): Act III, Scene change, Sachs, "Nun, Junker, kommt!" ("Now, sir knight, come!") . . . Shoemakers, "Sankt Krispin, lobet ihn!" ("Saint Crispin, praise him!")

In Friday night's preview we heard the haunting Prelude to Act III of Die Meistersinger and continued on with the opening of the long, crucial first of Act III's two scenes, set in the shoemaker-poet Hans Sachs's workshop, as Sachs's apprentice, David, tried to sneak back into the house the morning after his Midsummer Eve's brawling. (You'll find Wagner's stage direction for the workshop in that post.)

An awful lot happened in that scene, which we're going to be skipping over almost entirely, picking up with the very last line. And naturally a great deal has happened since the opening chorale we just heard in Act I, notably the explosion of the flirtation begun during the above church chorale between the radiant young Eva Pogner and the dashing young Franconian knight Walther von Stolzing (in fact an acquaintance of her father, the goldsmith Veit Pogner) into a mad but, alas, hopeless passion.

In the Workshop Scene, the young knight, coached by Sachs, has composed a proper Mastersong, worthy of this afternoon's song competition -- a creation that was witnessed, not just by Sachs and David but by the happening-by Eva, who lives next door to Sachs, and her nurse Magdalene, David's sweetheart. As we pick up, Sachs has just sent Eva and Lene off to the meadow to the gathering St. John's Day festivities.
[track 1]
HANS SACHS: Now, sir knight, come! Be of good cheer!

After the interlude the scene has changed. The stage now represents an open meadow; in the distance at the back, the town of Nuremberg. The river Pegnitz winds across the meadow. Boats gaily decorated with flags continually discharge fresh parties of burghers of the different guilds with their wives and families on the bank by the festival meadow. A raised stand with benches on it is erected right, already adorned with the flags of the guilds that had arrived earlier; as the scene opens the standard-bearers of freshly arriving guilds also place their banners against the Singers' stage, so that it is eventually quite closed in on three sides by them.

Tents with all kinds of refreshments border the sides of the open space in front. Before the tents there is much merry-making: burghers and their famlies sit or lie around them.

The apprentices of the Mastersingers, in holiday attire, finely decked out with ribbons and flowers and bearing slender wands, also ornamented, merrily fulfill the office of heralds and stewards. They receive the newcomers on the bank, arrange them in procession and conduct them to the stand, whence, after the standard-bearer has deposited his banner, the burghers and journeymen disperse among the tents. Just after the change of scene, the shoemakers are received on the bank in the manner mentioned and led to the foreground.

[track 2]
THE SHOEMAKERS [as they march past with banner flying]: Saint Crispin, praise him!
He was a very holy man,
showed what a cobbler can do.
The poor had a good time,
[he] made them warm shoes,
and if no one would lend him the leather
he stole it for his purpose.
The cobbler has a broad conscience,
makes shoes even when there are obstacles;
and as soon as the skin has left the tanner's,
then it's stretch! stretch! stretch!
Leather is of use only in the right place.
[The town watchmen with trumpets and drums enter, followed by the town pipers, lute-makers, etc.]
THE TAILORS [marching up with banner flying]: When Nuremberg was besieged
and there was famine,
the city and the whole land would have been ruined
if a tailor hadn't been at hand
who had much courage and sense;
he sewed himself in a goatskin
and went walking on the city wall,
and capered there
merrily and cheerfully.
The enemy sees this and withdraws;
the devil may take the city
if there are still such merry bleaters there!
Me-e-eh! Me-e-eh! Me-e-eh!
Who'd think there was a tailor inside the goat?
THE BAKERS [marching up with banner flying]: Famine! Famine!
What hideous suffering!
If the baker didn't give you your daily bread,
everyone would die!
Bake! Bake! Bake!
Each day on the spot!
Take away our hunger!
THE SHOEMAKERS: Stretch! Stretch! Stretch!
[A gaily painted boat, filled with young girls in fine peasant costumes, arrives. The apprentices go to the bank.]
APPRENTICES: Hurrah! Hurrah! Girls from Fürth!
Town pipers, play! Make it merry!
Dance of the Apprentices
[Meanwhile they help the girls out. The character of the dance which follows consists in the apprentices seeming only to wish to bring the girls to the open space: the journeymen endeavor to capture them and the apprentices move on as if seeking another place, thus making the tour of the stage and continually delaying the completion of their apparent purpose with fun and grace.]
[track 3]
DAVID [advancing from the landing place]:
You're dancing? What will the Masters say?
[The boys make faces at him.]
You won't listen? Then I'll enjoy myself too!
[He seizes a young and pretty girl and mingles in the dance with great ardor. The onlookers are amused and laugh.]
A PAIR OF APPRENTICES [winking at DAVID]: David! David! Lene's looking!
[DAVID is alarmed and hastily releases the maiden, but seeing nothing, seizes the girl again and resumes his dancing with even more ardor.]
DAVID: Ah! leave me in peace with your jokes!
[The boys try to take DAVID's girl from him, but he deftly outwits them.]
JOURNEYMEN [at the landing place]: The Mastersingers!
APPRENTICES: The Mastersingers!
[They at once break off their dance and hasten to the bank.]
DAVID: Good heavens! Farewell, you pretty young things!
[He gives the maiden an ardent kiss and then tears himself away. The apprentices arrange themselves to receive the MASTERSINGERS; all stand back for them. The MASTERSINGERS arrange their procession on the bank. When KOTHNER arrives in the foreground, all wave their hats to greet the banner he is bearing and on which King David with his harp is depicted. The MASTERSINGERS' procession arrives on the Singers' platform, where KOTHNER places his banner. POGNER follows him, leading EVA by the hand; she is attended by richly dressed maidens, among whom is MAGDALENE. When EVA has taken the richly decorated place of honor, with her maidens around her, and all the others, the MASTERS on benches, the journeymen standing behind them, have also taken their places, the apprentices solemnly advance in rank and file before the stand, turning to the people.]
APPRENTICES: Silence! Silence!
No talking and no murmuring!
[SACHS rises and steps forward. At sight of him all nudge each other hats and caps are taken off: all point at him.]
ALL THE PEOPLE: Ha! Sachs! It's Sachs!
Look, Master Sachs!
Begin! Begin! Begin!
[All those sitting rise; the men remain with uncovered heads. SACHS excepted, all those present sing the following stanza.]
"Awake! The dawn is drawing near;
I hear a blissful nightingale
singing in the green grove,
its voice rings through hill and valley;
nigh is sinking in the west,
the day arises in the east,
the ardent and red glow of morning
approaches through the gloomy clouds."
[The people again become excited and jubilant. The Chorus of the People continue to sing alone; the MASTERS on the platform as well as all those who had joined in the song watch the people's elation.]
Hail! Hail! Hail!
Hail to you, Hans Sachs!
Hail to Nurembeg's Sachs!
Hail to Nuremberg's dear Sachs!
Hail! Hail!

Josef Greindl (bs), Hans Sachs; Gerhard Stolze (t), David; Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Josef Krips, cond. Live performance, 1961


I thought we were going to sample those beautiful Munich Philharmonic Brahms and Bruckner recordings. The Brahms cycle, like the Beethoven symphony cycle Kempe did for EMI with the Munich Philharmonic (from which we've heard excerpts), is for me one of the most satisfying on records, and the Bruckner symphonies are pretty special too, and we probably would have heard excerpts from them as well when we heard some of that music, if I'd had the performances on CD. However, I think we'll have to save that for another time.

I wish I knew more about Kempe's Met career, which on the recorded evidence (all five operas he conducted in his two Met seasons, 1954-55 and 1955-56, were broadcast) was musically remarkable. (The 1955 Tannhäuser is extraordinary, and the Tristan und Isolde quite respectable. Strauss's Arabella, of which he conducted the belated company premiere, is a piece I've never penetrated despite a lot of years of trying. The broadcast I still haven't heard is Kempe's Met Meistersinger.) Was there a rapport gap between Kempe and General Manager Rudolf Bing, or between Kempe and New York audiences? Or perhaps he just wasn't willing to commit the necessary amount of time to North America? (He did a lot of conducting at Covent Garden in those years.) Whatever happened, it was New York's loss.

The Rosenkavalier performance seems to me simply outstanding. In the excerpt we heard Friday night, the little "breakfast scene" for Octavian and the Marschallin in Act I, I think we heard the chamber-like delicacy and flow he achieved with the singers and orchestra, without sacrificing flow or dramatic energy, as witness the fine frenzy he built up in Friday night's excerpt as the Marschallin becomes persuaded that the man barreling his way into the forechamber of her bedroom is her usually absent husband, the Feldmarschall.

I thought we'd start with the "crowd scene" of Act I, the Marschallin's "levée," at which all manner of folk turn up, most hoping to squeeze a bit of money out of the rich countess -- three "noble orphans," a milliner and an animal vendor hawking their wares, the professional conspirator Valzacchi promoting his secret services, and finally the Italian singer serving up the mock-Italian aria Strauss whipped up, which we heard quite a lot of back in July 2012. The aria is sung most beautifully, it seems to me, by Thomas Hayward, known as a singer of a number of "comprimario" (or supporting) tenor roles.

R. STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59: Act I, Marchallin's Levée . . . Italian Singer, "Di rigori armato"

Vilma Georgiu (s), Shakeh Vartenissian (s), and Sandra Warfield (ms), Three Noble Orphans; Emilia Cundari (s), A Milliner: Gabor Carelli (t), An Animal Vendor; Lisa della Casa (s), Marschallin; Alessio de Paolis (t), Valzacchi; Thomas Hayward (t), Italian Singer; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956

Der Rosenkavalier: Act I, Monologue, Marschallin, "Da geht er hin" ("There he goes") . . . "Kann ich auch an ein Mädel erinnern" ("I can also remember a young maiden")

The intruder whose arrival in Act I we heard Friday night turned out not to be the Feldmarschall but the Marschallin's odious cousin Baron Ochs, come to ask her assistance in findinga "rose knight" to deliver the silver rose emblematic of engagement. (His title has secure him the hand of young Sophie von Faninal, whose father has bought his title and now means to cement his position by marrying his daughter into the nobility.)

When Ochs finally leaves and the Marschallin is left alone, she expresses relief as well as revulsion, but on a day that began badly, with a migraine, she is spiraling downward, and can only see herself as "the old lady, the old Marschallin," but can "also remember young maiden" who emerged "fresh from the cloister." We've heard it before (and at some point we'll look at it more closely), but we have here a lovely performance by Lisa della Casa, a strikingly beautiful woman who must have made a riveting Marschallin in 1956. (I saw her some years later as Octavian.)

Lisa della Casa (s), Marschallin; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956

Der Rosenkavalier: Act II, Opening and Presentation of the Rose

We've heard the scene leading up to the "Presentation of the Rose" too -- the errand for which the Marschallin's odious cousin Baron Ochs has come calling in Act I. Ochs is seeking her help in choosing

The"Presentation of the Rose" is a ritual wholly invented by librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and then given luminous beauty by Strauss, despite the horror it marks here, in the betrothal of the cherishable young Sophie to the odious Ochs. At the opening we hear the frenetic excitement in the Faninal household -- first from Herr von Faninal himself, then from Sophie, who is out of her mind with excitement (the phrase that finally came to me to describe it is that she's jumping out of her skin), as voiced to her duenna, Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin. Then we hear the arrival of Octavian, more formally Count Rofrano, and the actual presentation. Hilde Gueden is probably still the most cherishable Sophie I've heard.

Ralph Herbert (b), von Faninal; Hilde Gueden (s), Sophie; Thelma Votipka (s), Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin; Risë Stevens (ms), Octavian; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956

Der Rosenkavalier: Act II, Scene, Baron Ochs-Annina, "Da lieg' ich" ("There I lie") . . . "Ohne mich, ohne mich" ("Without me, without me") . . . "Herr Kavalier" ("Sir Knight")

We've also heard the end of Act II, which finds Baron Ochs nursing the tiniest of flesh wounds inflicted by Octavian, no longer able to conceal his revulsion at the idea of him marrying Sophie, with whom he himself is already falling in love. We hear the conspiratorial Valzacchi's partner Annina approach the Baron with a letter purportedly from an imaginary maid of the Marschallin, Mariandel, whom he meet during his visit to his cousin. Mariandel was actually Octavian in disguise, and now he is setting a trap for the loathsome old lecher.

Otto Edelmann (bs-b), Baron Ochs; Martha Lipton (ms), Annina; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956

Der Rosenkavalier: Act III, Trio, Marschallin-Octavian-Sophie, "Marie-Thérès'" . . . "Hab' mir's gelobt" ("I promised myself")

Finally, I don't see how we can skip the climax of the opera, the Act III trio in which the Marschallin gives Octavian, whom she has always known would leave her for a younger woman, to Sophie. This is a pretty impressive trio we hear -- della Casa as the Marschallin, Risë Stevens as Octavian, and Gueden as Sophie.

Risë Stevens (ms), Octavian; Lisa della Casa (s), Marschallin; Hilde Gueden (s), Sophie; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956

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