Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Jon Vickers in consolatory, even happy mode


"Froh, froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
which he set on their courses,
through the splendor of the firmament;
thus, brothers, you should run your race,
like a hero going to conquest.

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Jon Vickers, tenor; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978
-- from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

by Ken

Last week I put together, from audio clips we'd already heard over the years, a quick tribute to the late Jon Vickers, and still feel guilty about not including at least English texts for the selections, on the shabby ground that digging them out would have involved too much time and effort. (Well, oo-hoo!) Nobody complained, which is even more discouraging. One of these days I will go back and fix that post.

I led that post off with the above excerpt from the epochal finale of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, precisely to hear Vickers in a "froh" frame of musical mind, since his greatest musical assumptions, despite moments of triumph, were on the desolate side. Again, we have two versions, one early-ish, the other much later. I thought you might like to hear the complete performances of the finale from which the excerpts are drawn (which we have in fact heard before, so you'll find them at the end.)


We're still not going into "tragic" mode, but into what I've called above "conciliatory."

VERDI: Requiem: ii. Dies irae: "Ingemisco"
Ingemisco tamquam reus,
culpa rubet vultus meus,
supplicanti, supplicanti parce, Deus.

I groan as one who is accused;
guilt reddens my cheek;
Thy supplicant, Thy supplicant spare, O God.
Qui Mariam absolvisti
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Thou who absolved Mary,
and harkened to the thief,
and who hast given me hope,
and who hast given me hope.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.

My prayers are worthless,
but Thou who art good and kind,
rescue me from everlasting fire.
Inter oves locum praesta
et ab hoedis me sequestra,
inter oves locum praesta
et ab hoedis me sequestra,
statuens, statuens in parte dextra.
Et ab hoedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

With Thy sheep give me a place,
and from the goats keep me separate,
with Thy sheep give me a place,
and from the goats keep me separate,
placing me, placing me at Thy right hand.
Et ab hoedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

And from the goats keep me separate,
placing me at Thy right hand.

Jon Vickers, tenor; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded April 1970

In April I introduced a "Sunday Classics snapshots" post that included the "Ingemisco" with this quote:

"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal the wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds."

The musical snapshots in that post were the first vocal number from Handel's Messiah, the accompagnato recitative "Comfort ye, my people" (which comes attached to the aria "Every valley shall be exalted," which is a very pretty aria but wasn't the point) and the "Ingemisco." In fishing around for tenors we could hear singing both, I came up with Nicolai Gedda, Fritz Wunderlich, and of course Vickers.


It's not that Vickers didn't have his faults, which were pretty obvious: the croon he could apply in the upper midrange, the odd vowels he sang that didn't quite correspond to those of the languages he sang (and he had excoriatingly memorable roles in German, Italian, French, and English), the "subtlety" of phrasing that often seemed more accurately described as mannerism. For all that, though, his singing had qualities like nobody else's.

Vocally, of course, there was not only the beauty but more particularly the immenseness of the voice, which could be scaled down to a wisp that had a solidity and presence very different from what we would hear from smaller voices plying the music in question -- as witness his "Ingemisco" from the "Dies irae" of the Verdi Requiem. And interpretively, he had access to what I can only call an "existential" quality that gave his singing of certain music a depth and resonance that we don't encounter often, and never, in my experience, from a voice like his -- a quality that again I think is well illustrated by his "Ingemisco," with conductor John Barbirolli in a latitudinous frame of mind that may initially seem slack but over the long haul has proved immensely rewarding.

Vickers is an unexpected Handelian, but he had a great Handel role: the title role in the oratorio Samson, an appropriate complement to one of his greatest roles, Saint-Saëns's operatic rendering of Samson et Dalila, which come to think of it is often accused, peculiarly, of being in effect an oratorio. Let's listen again to the two Vickers recordings of "Comfort ye" (this time with the aria tacked on in both versions) -- one early Vickers, the other merely early-ish.

HANDEL: Messiah: No. 1, Tenor accompagnato, "Comfort ye, my people"; No. 2, Tenor aria, "Every valley shall be exalted"
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Jon Vickers, tenor; Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Ernest MacMillan, cond. RCA, recorded c1953

Jon Vickers, tenor; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. RCA, recorded 1959


As promised.

I've even filched German-English texts from Wikipedia (from a BBC Proms 2013 program), which notes that (a) the italicized introductory lines are not from Schiller's Ode to Joy but were written by Beethoven himself, and (b) the text is given without the composer's multitudinous repetitions.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125: iv. Finale

Elisabeth Söderström, soprano; Regina Resnik, mezzo-soprano; Jon Vickers, tenor; David Ward, bass-baritone; London Bach Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. Westminster-MCA-DG, recorded June 1962

Lucia Popp, soprano; Elena Obraztsova, mezzo-soprano; Jon Vickers, tenor; Martti Tavlela, bass; Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 13-15, 1978

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home