Sunday, January 27, 2002

[1/27/12] Preview: Given the resources at his disposal, Vivaldi's musical storms may be the most remarkable of all (continued)


The storm movement from Vivaldi's Winter again, in more expected form -- with soloist Itzhak Perlman and Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic


The performances are the same ones we heard of the individual movements of the concertos in the November 2010 Four Seasons post, but of course there we heard a whole bunch of other performances of the complete concertos, not to mention the complete Four Seasons.

VIVALDI: Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention), Op. 8: Nos. 1-4, Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons)

Concerto No. 1 in E, Spring:
i. Allegro

Then come, covering the air with a black mantle,
lightning and thunder, chosen to herald her,
and when they cease, the tiny birds
take up again their melodious song.

Josef Suk, violin; František Xaver Thuri, harpsichord; Prague Chamber Orchestra, Libor Hlaváček, cond. Supraphon, recorded Apr. 13-16, 1975

Alan Loveday, violin; Colin Tilney, harpsichord and organ continuo; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields, Neville Marriner, cond. Argo/Decca, recorded September 1969

Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Summer:
iii. Presto

The heavens thunder and lighten, and hail
lops the ears of corn and the proud wheat.

Josef Suk, violin; František Xaver Thuri, harpsichord; Prague Chamber Orchestra, Libor Hlaváček, cond. Supraphon, recorded Apr. 13-16, 1975

Alan Loveday, violin; Colin Tilney, harpsichord and organ continuo; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields, Neville Marriner, cond. Argo/Decca, recorded September 1969

Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Winter:
iii. Allegro non molto

Trembling, frozen in black frost
in the icy blast of a bitter wind,
Hurrying, stamping your feet at every step;
with chattering teeth because of the excessive cold . . .

Josef Suk, violin; František Xaver Thuri, harpsichord; Prague Chamber Orchestra, Libor Hlaváček, cond. Supraphon, recorded Apr. 13-16, 1975

Alan Loveday, violin; Colin Tilney, harpsichord and organ continuo; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields, Neville Marriner, cond. Argo/Decca, recorded September 1969


We have musical storms by Ferde Grofé, Richard Strauss, Edvard Grieg, Benjamin Britten, and Gioacchino Rossini (plus an oddly un-stormy thunder display from the pen of Johann Strauss II).


Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

[1/22/12] Which mainstay of the chamber music literature was first heard in 1855 in, of all places, NYC? (continued)


As promised, here's the Scherzo of Op. 8 played by the Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio. Again, I suggest keeping the volume down.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8:
i. Allegro con brio
ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro
iii. Adagio
iv. Allegro

Joseph Silverstein, violin; Jules Eskin, cello; Richard Goode, piano. RCA, recorded c1968
I'm going to assume that Richard Goode (born 1943) needs no introduction. If he does, well, here's a basic bio. You can also visit his Facebook page.

Joseph Silverstein (born 1932) joined the BSO in 1955-56 -- sitting in the last chair of the second violins! -- and rose through the violin ranks until he replaced retiring concertmaster Richard Burgin in the 1962-63 season, and was active in the founding of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in 1964. He became increasingly active as a conductor, and in 1971 became assistant conductor of the BSO, and after leaving Boston, following the 1983-84 season, became conductor and then full-fledged music director of the Utah Symphony, remaining until 1998. His successor as BSO concertmaster, Malcolm Lowe, is still on the job, having long since surpassed Silverstein's 21 years as concertmaster.

Jules Eskin (born 1931) became principal cellist of the BSO in 1964, after his predecessor, Samuel Mayes, and Mayes's wife, Winifred, also a BSO cellist, were lured by Eugene Ormandy to became principal and co-principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eskin came to Boston after three years as principal cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, and he hasn't left. He was a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, as was violist Burton Fine, whom we heard Friday night in the Trout Quintet.


Here's most of what James Lyons had to say about the two versions of Brahms's Op. 8 in his note for the Boston Symphony Chamber Players set that includes the performance we just heard.
It must be understood that the Op. 8 introduced in New York was not quite the Op. 8 we know. Brahms was a burgeoning composer of 21 when he completed the original. Some 36 years later, as a renowned master in his late middle age, he went back to the score and overhauled it. The end product is doubtless the happiest mingling of youthful exuberance and mature wisdom in the chamber music literature.

With typical understatement, Brahms wrote to a friend about the reworked Op. 8 that he "did not provide it with a wig, but just combed and arranged its hair a little." To labor the analogy, a comparison of the two versions would indicate rather that the music had been given a shave, a shampoo and whatever else an experienced barber could effect in the interests of transformation. But in fact the alterations were considerably more than skin-deep.

Several of the secondary subjects were supplanted by real subsidiary motives, necessitating new development and recapitulation sections. Onl the Scherzo second movement was spared, but even there the coda was modified. The original sequence of keys is preserved, but somehow the colors are more autumnal than before; where there had been an impetuous, gypsy-like sadness there is now a kind of commanding somberness. . . . [Beethoven's] presence is felt, if not heard. A certain imperious quality comes through. But the confident contours cannot disguise a deeply felt melancholy.


With regard to the performances, it may be of interest to note, concerning the two versions of Op. 8, that already in 1854 the piece was conceived on a very large scale. Jim Lyons may have been right about the revision tipping it in the direction of melancholy, but that's not the same thing as the heaving, sweat-dripping ponderousness so often imposed on Brahms by performers who think that's called for. I think all of our performers dodge that trap. The performance that is in some ways most intriguing is the Borodin Trio's Scherzo, which in common with most of the choices in that splendid ensembles recordings of the Brahms piano trios and quartets is conceived on a monumental scale and maintains quite a high intensity level -- but note how substantially they fill out that framework; note the payoff they get in the gorgeous central trio section (at 2:09). I think the more characteristically fleeter and lighter-textured recording by the remarkable Chung siblings provides an excellent contrast.

It seemed an obvious idea to set the two Rubinstein performances together. The much shorter timing of the classic 1941 recording is attributable, first, to the omission of the repeat; second, to clearly different interpretive priorities; and possibly third to a strong wish to fit the movement on two 78-rpm sides. [UPDATE: I meant that the 1941 timing is "much shorter" than most more recent performances. In fact, the 1972 recording doesn't take the repeat either.] Bear in mind that the earlier recording featured an ensemble that, starry as it was, was much younger. The great Feuermann (1902-1942) was two months away from his 39th birthday (which tragically would be his last), Heifetz (1901-1987) was 40, and Rubinstein (1887-1982) was the old man of the group at 54, the approximate age of the youngest participant in the 1972 recording, Szeryng (1918-1988, his birthday was later that month). Fournier (1906-1986) was 66, and Rubinstein 85.

I also thought it would be interesting to put the two Josef Suk recordings together, and the Adagio seemed the movement in which to do it. Finally, for the finale we have two sets of really outstanding musicians, and I love the to-the-point urgency of the Brandis-Borwitzky-Vásáry performance. The Trio di Trieste makes what I consider an exceedingly risky choice in going with the darkly dreamlike quality of the music -- risky in that it can so easily lead to just the kind of bloating and ponderousness I was talking about -- but as with the Borodin Trio's wonderfully grand-scaled Scherzo, the Trieste finale seems to me quite beautifully sustained.

The brief Wikipedia article on the piece has some brief descriptions of the movements which may be helpful.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8

i. Allegro con brio

Wikipedia: "This movement is a sonata form movement in B major, with a broad theme that begins in the cello and piano and builds in intensity. It is counterpoised by a more delicate anacrustic second theme in G sharp minor. This theme appeared only in the second version of the trio, replacing a more complex group of themes and a fugal section in the first version."
Original version (1854)

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Jascha Heifetz, violin; Emanuel Feuermann, cello; Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in Hollywood, Sept. 11-12. 1941

Henryk Szeryng, violin; Pierre Fournier, cello; Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in Geneva, Sept. 4-10, 1972

ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro

Wikipedia: "The B minor scherzo combines delicate filigree passages with fortissimo outbursts. The exuberant mood of the first movement returns in the trio section. A tierce de picardie sets the scene for the Adagio. The only alterations Brahms applied to this movement in his revision of the work were a doubling of the climactic trio melody in the cello, and a reworking of the coda."
Original version (1854)

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Borodin Trio: Rostislav Dubinsky, violin; Yuli Turovsky, cello; Luba Edlina, piano. Chandos, recorded in London, June 7-8, 1982?

Kyung Wha Chung, violin; Myung Wha Chung, cello; Myung Whun Chung, piano. Decca, recorded in Vienna, Apr. 30-May 3, 1987

iii. Adagio

Wikipedia: "This movement, returning to B major, opens with a spacious chordal theme in the piano, counterpoised by a middle section in which the cello plays a poignant G sharp minor melody making use of chromaticism. In the first version, a different second theme was used, and an Allegro section was included near the end of the movement."
Original version (1854): Adagio non troppo

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Suk Trio: Josef Suk, violin; Josef Chuchro, cello; Jan Panenka, piano. Supraphon, recorded in Prague, Sept. 7-11, 1976

Josef Suk, violin; Janos Starker, cello; Julius Katchen, piano. Decca, recorded at the Maltings, Snape (England), July 1968

iv. Allegro

Wikipedia: "Back in B minor, the first theme of this movement is highly chromatic and slightly ambiguous tonally, with a very agitated dotted rhythm. This is perhaps the movement Brahms altered the most between the two versions, with the cello's original smooth second theme in F sharp major being replaced by a more vigorous arpeggiated piano theme in D major. After a B major episode recalling the mood of the first movement, the music returns to minor and ends very turbulently."
Original version (1854): Allegro molto agitato

Trio Opus 8: Eckhard Fischer, violin; Mario de Secondi, cello; Michael Hauber, piano. Arte Nova, recorded c1997
Revised version (1891)

Trio di Trieste: Renato Zanettovich, violin; Libero Lana, cello; Dario de Rosa, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, May 24-25, 1967

Thomas Brandis, violin; Ottomar Borwitzky, cello; Tamás Vásáry, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, September 1981


. . . which had come to make less and less sense, though it started as what seemed like a reasonable enough idea. In order to have a second complete Brahms B major for this post, I was going to do a digital dub of the c1952 Westminster recording by pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, Jean Fournier, and cellist Antonio Janigro, from my original "WL" series pressing (for reasons I don't really understand, those old Westminster LPs have acquired quite a cachet), which would also give me a chance to listen to it, since I really don't have any recollection of it.

So I dubbed the first side of the LP, with the first two movements, and then started declicking. My LP looks lovely, but jeez, was there stuff to try to get rid of on it. I spent hours and hours on it (four? five? six?) -- enough to know that there was no way I was going to continue on with the third and fourth movements. It was the sort of insane task you only continue because of the amount of time you've already got invested in it, and then the more time you put into it, the more impossible it becomes to stop. Working backwards, I had finished the second movement and was literally all the way back to the first 15 seconds of the first movement when I had to deal with something else, and the something else wound up forcing me to restart my computer -- and poof, there went the declicked file!

After a while I remembered that I had made an MP3 file of the second movement, so here it is. It's really not a bad performance. I would have liked to listen to the more or less declicked first movement. I gather, by the way, that violinist Jean Fournier was the younger brother of cellist Pierre, but the bios I've seen of the latter make no mention of a brother, and the "bio" of Jean on on the Westminster LP is biographically limited to the facts that he was born in Paris and won First Prize at the Paris Conservatory.

BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B, Op. 8:
ii. Scherzo: Allegro molto; Meno allegro

Jean Fournier, violin; Antonio Janigro, cello; Paul Badura-Skoda, piano. Westminster, recorded c1952


SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A, D. 667 (Trout):
i. Allegro vivace
ii. Andante
iii. Scherzo: Presto
iv. Theme and Variations: Andantino; Allegretto
v. Finale: Allegro giusto

Boston Symphony Chamber Players: Richard Goode, piano (guest artist); Joseph Silverstein, violin; Burton Fine, viola; Jules Eskin, cello; Henry Portnoi, double bass. RCA, recorded c1968 [audio link]


Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

[1/15/2011] Stormy weather, part 1 (continued)


The opening scene of Otello, with Jon Vickers in the title role, from the 1974 film by Herbert von Karajan, whose soundtrack is the recording Karajan made the year before, from which hear this scene below, where you'll find the cast list for this scene.


We've actually devoted a certain amount of attention to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, first in October 2010 in tandem with its "fraternal twin," Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and then in May 2011 on its own, as "Music for a late-spring Sunday."

In the course of those posts we've heard performances of the sequence of the third through fifth movements by:
* Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony,
* Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,
* Pierre Monteux and the London Symphony
* Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, and
* Günter Wand and the NDR Symphony,
and of the whole symphony by Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony.

I was actually prepared to repurpose some combination of these recordings for today's post. However, this time out we're dealing with a new Sunday Classics reality. Our musical host, Internet Archive, has just this week switched to a new audio-video player, and while many of the changes, both for good and bad, will only affect the behind-the-scenes operation here at Sunday Classics, some of the changes will be audible or visible to you.

One apparent difference concerns audio files with multiple tracks. With the old player, the passage from track to track always seemed to be luck-of-the-draw. It seemed to be a matter of how quickly the system accessed the new file --sometimes quicly, sometimes not so quickly. With the new player, however (which seems basically designed to handle video playlists), it's seeming to me to take interminably long all the time.

This is a problem when those multiple tracks are musically continuous. On a CD, the editor can control the pause between-track points, down to no pause at all, which is how the last three movements of the Pastoral Symphony are meant to play, since Beethoven designed them to be played without interruption. We've already got so many perfectly good files of this three-movement sequence stockpiled that my first thought was to give some of them an encore performance. But when I listened to a few of them in the new order, I found the hiatuses unbearable, and finally decided that no indeed, they were not to be borne.

I suppose I can learn how to dump separate CD tracks into single continuous audio files; it can't be that difficult. (It better not be.) But for now the only solution I could come up with was to go back to LPs, and just live with the inevitable surface noise that would mean.

The nice thing is that such necessities sometimes simultaneously bring opportunities, and a couple of recordings quickly popped to mind.d switch tracks in playing audio files that contain multiple tracks. for the apparently interminable time it takes the new MP3 player to move from track to track, I've gone back to LP, and we're going to start with Otto Klemperer's October 1957 EMI studio recording, the one that generated the famous spat with producer Walter Legge over the conductor's gradual tempo for the peasants' dance.

One of the previews to the May 2011 post on the Pastoral Symphony was titled "Otto Klemperer makes us ponder how fast Beethoven's peasants dance," and in it I told a famous story from the making of Klemperer's EMI stereo recording of the symphony. When producer Walter Legge, expressed concern about the slow tempo Klemperer had staked out for the peasants'-dance scherzo, Klemperer replied, "You'll get used to it." Later in the sessions, when they came back to the movement, Klemperer asked, "Walter, have you gotten used to it yet?"

We did hear the famous Klemperer scherzo in the May post. Since I don't have the Klemperer-EMI Beethoven cycle on CD (I've never found the performances that interesting), I made a digital dub of the "Peasants' Dance." As I pointed out, it's really not all that slow, and when we hear it in the context of the three-movement sequence, as we're going to today, I think you may agree that the pacing makes excellent sense, and raises the glorious finale to a majestic climax.

Looking back at the May posts, I noticed for the first time an interesting question added to that preview post by an unfortunately anonymous reader: "Of course, your anecdote about Klemperer and Legge, begs the question: Is the version last night by André Cluytens his or Legge?

The answer is that as far as I know Legge had nothing to do with the making of the Cluytens-Berlin Philharmonic Beethoven symphony cycle, either as producer or as EMI a&r director, since it was made, as far as I know, by the French EMI company, Pathé-Marconi (now EMI France), possibly with the participation of the German EMI company, Electrola, since the recordings were after all made in Berlin.

The other performance we're going to hear is the wonderful series of recordings that William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony made for Enoch Light's Command label in the early to mid-1960s. (We last heard their rousing, buoyant Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite.) I've encountered a reference to a CD issue of the Beethoven symphony cycle by a Montreal company, but I don't find any trace of it, and I'm not aware of another CD edition. So let's listen to that first, and then the Klemperer recording.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
iii. Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto

Then, because I keep making such a fuss about the series of recordings William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony made for Enoch Light's Command label, we'll hear their performance.

[Storm: 5:15 to 8:42] Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg, cond. Command, recorded c1966 [audio link]

[Storm: 6:25 to 10:05] Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded October 1957 [audio link]


We've also heard this opening sequence of Otello before, from the thundering opening through Otello's "Esultate," in what I thought was an interesting assortment of four performances, and again I thought we could resurrect some of them for this post, but again I was troubled by the track switch(es) -- all the CD editions naturally have a track point somewhere around the start of the "Esultate, which for our purposes would have made for a full stop that would have seriously undercut the scene. So again I've gone to the LPs for three "new" performances, giving us representations of the dominant Otellos of the last half-century, Jon Vickers and Plácido Domingo and for good measure a performance in English.

VERDI: Otello: Act I opening: Chorus, "Una vela!" . . . "Dio, fulgor della bufera" . . . Otello, "Esultate" . . . Chorus, "Vittoria! Vittoria!"
Outside the castle, with the sea wall and sea in the background. An inn with a pergola. It is evening. A thunderstorm is raging.

THE CROWD: A sail! A sail!
A standard! A standard!
MONTANO: It’s the Winged Lion!
CASSIO: We can see it when the lightning flashes.
THE CROWD: A trumpet call!
A cannon shot!
CASSIO: It’s Otello’s ship.
MONTANO: The violent waves
make it rise and fall.
CASSIO: They lift the bow skyward!
THE CROWD: The clouds and sea conceal it.
And lightning now reveals it.
Lightning. Thunder. Vortex.
All the tempest’s fury.
The waves tremble. The sky trembles.
The world itself trembles to its core.
With blind rage the waves make the heavens spin.
The gods shake the callous sky
like a bleak, billowing veil.
All is smoke. All is fire.
An inferno that enflames and engulfs all.
The universe itself shakes.
The north wind soars like a phantom.
The titans strike the anvil, and the heavens roar.
God, in the midst of the storm smile upon us.
Save the banner of Venetian glory!
Thou, who reigns over the heavens and the earth.
Calm the gale.
Place the anchor true in the midst of the sea.
JAGO: The mast is breaking.
RODERIGO: The ship will crash on the rocks.
JAGO: (May the sea be Otello’s grave.)
THE CROWD: They are saved!
They’re manning the rowboats.
They’re approaching shore!
They’re at the docks. Evviva!
OTELLO: Rejoice!
The pride of the Ottomans
rests at the bottom of the sea.
Our glory is from heaven.
For the storm
has destroyed our enemy.
THE CROWD: Evviva, Otello! Evviva!
The enemy is destroyed, buried in the deep sea.
For a requiem they have the crash of the waves.
The abyss of the sea. Victory!
Our enemy is buried at sea.
The storm is calmed at last.

Mario Macchi (b), Montano; Aldo Bottion (t), Cassio; Peter Glossop (b), Jago; Michel Sénéchal (t), Roderigo; Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1973 [audio link]

Edward Toumajian (b), Montano; Ezio di Cesare (t), Cassio; Justino Díaz (bs-b), Jago; Constantin Zaharia (t), Roderigo; Plácido Domingo (t), Otello; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Lorin Maazel, cond. EMI, recorded 1985 [audio link]

[in English] John Gibbs (b), Montano; Adrian Martin (t), Cassio; Neil Howlett (b), Jago; Stuart Kale (t), Roderigo; Charles Craig (t), Otello; English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Elder, cond. EMI, recorded live, October 1981 [audio link]


I already had a lineup planned that would include storms by the likes of Britten, Grofé, Rossini, and Verdi again (it was actually the amazing storm in the final act of Rigoletto that got me to thinking about this), but I decided it's too much for one post. We'll have Part 2 at a future date -- very likely next week, but one never knows about such things. We'll add just one more specimen, to bring in a French storm to set alongside our Austrian and Italian (based on an English play about Venetians) ones.

In Berlioz' epic opera The Trojans, more or less based on The Aeneid, Aeneas and a party of Trojans have escaped their doomed city just before its sacking by the Greeks, charged with a divine mission to found, or maybe just find, something called "Italy." With a talent for leaving destruction in his wake, Aeneas first finds Carthage, where he becomes passionately involved with the Carthaginian queen, Dido. This is the state of affairs at the time of the pantomimed "Royal Hunt and Storm," which opens Act IV. Come Act V, however, Aeneas will be rebitten by the "Italy" bug, and . . . well, it doesn't end happily for Dido or Carthage.

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens: Act IV, Scene 1, Royal Hunt and Storm
A forest in Africa, in the morning. At the rear, a very high crag. Below and to the left of the rock, the opening of a grotto. A small stream flows the length of the crag and finally is lost in a natural basin bordered by rushes and reeds. Two naiads allow themselves to be seen for an instant and disappear; then we see them swimming in the basin.

Royal hunt. Hunting horns resound in the distance in the forest. The frightened naiads hide in the reeds. Young Ascanius [the son of Aeneas], on horseback, crosses the stage at a gallop.

The sky is obscured; rain falls. Growing storm . . . . Soon the tempest becomes terrible; torrents of rain, hail, lightning, and thunder. Repeated calls by the hunting horns in the midst of the tumult of the elements. The hunters disperse in every direction; at the end we see Dido dressed as the huntress Diana, bow in hand, quiver on her shoulder, and Aeneas in semi-military garb. They are both on foot. They enter the grotto.

Immediately the forest nymphs, hair disheveled, appear at the top of the crag, and come and go, shouting and making wild gestures. Amid their clamors we can distinguish from time to time the word "Italy."

Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Feb.-March 1976 [audio link]

Chorus of the OSM, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded October 1993 [audio link]


Since we've lightened today's load, and since I had already prepared a number of those pre-existing audio files for reuse, here they are.

VERDI: Otello: Act I opening: Chorus, "Una vela!" . . . "Dio, fulgor della bufera" . . . Otello, "Esultate" . . . Chorus, "Vittoria! Vittoria!"

Arthur Newman (b), Montano; Virginio Assandri (t), Cassio; Giuseppe Valdengo (b), Jago; Leslie Chabay (t), Roderigo; Ramón Vinay (t), Otello; Chorus, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini. Broadcast performance, Dec. 6, 1947 [audio link]

Siegfried Rudolf Friese (bs), Montano; Ryland Davies (t), Cassio; Peter Glossop (b), Jago; Hans Vickmann (t), Roderigo; Jon Vickers (t), Otello; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, July 30, 1971 [audio link]

Malcolm King (bs), Montano; Frank Little (t), Cassio; Sherrill Milnes (b), Jago; Paul Crook (t), Roderigo; Plácido Domingo (t), Otello; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, National Philharmonic Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded August 1978 [audio link]

Alan Opie (b), Montano; Antony Rolfe Johnson (t), Cassio; Leo Nucci (b), Jago; John Keyes (t), Roderigo; Luciano Pavarotti (t), Otello; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded in concert in Chicago and New York, April 1991 [audio link]

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
iii Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto

Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1961 [audio link]

Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded December 1992 [audio link]


BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
i. Awakening of Agreeable Impressions on Arrival in the Country: Allegro ma non troppo
ii. Scene by the Brook: Andante molto moto
iii. Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto

Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Jan. 13, 15, and 17, 1958 [audio link]



See With the full symphony orchestra you can create a heckuva storm (aka: Musical storms, part 2) (January 29)

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

[1/8/2012] At 22, Schubert knew just where he was aiming in the irresistible "Trout" Quintet (continued)



SCHUBERT: "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"), D. 550
Across a clear brook gentle,
there shot in eager haste
the trout, so tempramental;
quite arrow-like it raced.
I on the shore was gazing
and watched the brook disclose
the merry fish's bathing
to me in sweet repose.

An angler's reel unrolled
from where he stood below.
He watched with blood most cold
the fish swim to and fro.
So long no stone or sod
stirred up the water pure
the trout from line and rod
would stay, I thought, secure.

At length the thief lost patience
and made the brook obscure
with crafty agitations,
and ere I could be sure
the rod had started curving;
the squirming fish was hooked.
With pounding blood observing,
at the betrayed, I looked.
-- German text by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart,
English translation by Walter Meyer
Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Hubert Giesen, piano. DG, recorded November 1965
Renée Fleming, soprano; Christoph Eschenbach, piano. Decca, recorded June 1996
Bryn Terfel, baritone; Malcolm Martineau, piano. DG, recorded February 1994


Let me confess that I didn't sit down with these 15 recordings -- plus a number of others that wound up not being represented here -- and listen through them with fierce concentration, searching for the best, or most illustrative, performances of each movement. (Not at these rates.) What I did instead was to put together, where possible, some performances I interesting to listen to in close juxtaposition (then once the audio files were made, that's what I did), and then fill in what I thought might be some other interesting combinations. The thing is, then, that we're listening to and for different things in each of the five movements.

I have some observations to make about each movement, but as long as we're "doing" the piece, I couldn't resist sharing this really fine liner note I stumbled across in the course of my Trout wanderings. It's by David Johnson, who was for a time Columbia Masterworks's go-to annotator, and it comes from the original LP issue of our very first performance, the Horszowski-Budapest Quartet one.

There are things here I could quibble with, like the notion of William Mann's which Johnson imports with seeming approval that "Schubert takes the lazy way out," in preferring a high degree of variation over what Mann seems to think of as the morally superior, heavier-lifting approach of development. Schubert seems to me to have had a clear sense of the tone he wanted for this quintet -- and yes, it is, as Mann suggests, consistent with the "holiday" atmosphere in which it was conceived. Especially in a work of this undimmable brilliance, it seems to me curious to imagine that the composer wasn't making conscious aesthetic choices.

Also, when Johnson underlines the "extra" movement, it's in connection with the Finale, which of course isn't the "extra" movement, which is the "extra" slow movement. You may recall that when we poked at Schubert's Octet for winds and strings ("Schubert's Octet may stretch our endurance but also stretches our delights") in the company of its evident inspiration, Beethoven's Septet, one common feature we found was a pair of slow movements: both a theme-and-variations one and a "regular" one. For a composer of Schubert's probably never-matched lyrical genius (he was the answer to the admittedly unanswerable question "Who was the world's greatest tunesmith?" in a January 2009 post, "The case of Franz Schubert -- how did so much music of such beauty come from one mind, and in such a tragically short time?"), this doubling up was a no-brainer. I think it's fair to say that the idea worked.

That said, I think Johnson's piece does a splendid job of setting the stage for the piece and then leading us through it. What more can we ask from any annotator? The pieces of his piece are set off so you can dip into them as much or as little as you like.

Neither Haydn, Mozart nor Beethoven ever wrote a "piano quintet"—that is, a composition for piano and string quartet. Schubert, in the Trout Quintet, came close to writing the first great piano quintet. But since the Trout is unorthodox in its instrumentation—employing a double bass and dropping the second violin—the honor was reserved for Robert Schumann. After Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák and Franck contributed grandly to the genre. Schubert's Trout is quite separate from this series in a deeper sense than its choice of instruments. Whereas they are often symphonic in approach and make use of the rather large chamber ensemble for weight and for the contrast of piano and strings, Schubert's principal concern is with color; each instrument is an obbligato voice, singing its own song with its own very distinctive timbre. Despite the bravura piano part, one is always delightedly aware of the cello or violin or double bass making its own distinct and independent contribution. Here, if ever, is a society of equals, cooperating to produce some of the most ravishingly light-hearted music ever conceived.

Schubert was lighthearted when he wrote the work in the summer of 1819. At twerity-two, he was already a master with an enormous body of compositions to his credit. He and his friend Johann Vogl, the remarkable baritone who gave the first performances of many of Schubert's songs, were visiting the picturesque town of Steyr, some ninety miles to the west of Vienna. There Schubert enjoyed the hospitality of Sylvester Paumgartner, a music enthusiast and amateur cellist, and presumably promised to write a work for him, one containing a prominent cello part. The cello does indeed have wonderful things to do in the Trout -- which was first performed in Paumgartner's drawing room in the winter of 1819-20 -- but not at the expense of the other instruments. Schubert, who presided at the piano, gave himself plenty to do and provided handsomely for the other instrumentalists as well. The only concession to Paumgartner was the inclusion of the double bass in the ensemble, thus freeing the cellist from the task of providing the bass foundation and allowing him to roam freely in the songful upper registers of his instrument. It is worth noting, however, that the use of the double bass in chamber ensembles was not uncommon in Schubert's day, and he had distinguished precedent in the septets of Beethoven and Hummel and a quintet by Hummel for the same combination of instruments as his own.

To pick up a bit on Johnson's well-explained point about the incorporation and role of the double bass in the Trout. Most ensembles seem content to let the bass toil away honorably at this thankless chore, except at those moments when Schubert brings it into the foreground, as in the glorious variation early in the development of the first movement when the bass gets an actual solo shot. Personally, I always enjoy a performance where the performers make more of the bass's unusual presence. Which is a roundabout way of saying that none of our recordings gives the bass as much prominence as I would like.

I remember attending a wonderful performance of Schubert's great C major String Quintet (a very different sort of piece from this one), which adds a second cello to the standard string quartet but assigns the second cello basically this same role of bass underpininng, in which Peter Wiley, then the distinguished cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio, before he replaced his teacher, David Soyer, as cellist of the Guarneri Quartet, guested with an excellent young string quartet and opened the piece up with an almost-thundering rendering of that bottom line. I loved it, and enjoy hearing the same sort of thing in the Trout when it comes. My recollection is that Peter Serkin's later recording, with his ensemble of the time, Tashi, one of two versions I had on cassette and used to listen to a lot (we'll come back to the other one, in talking about the fourth movement), had a wonderfully buzzy double-bass preference.


SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A, D. 667 (Trout)

i. Allegro vivace

I think the links among our three performances -- and I don't mean just the participation of double bassist Julius Levine -- will be clear enough. These are musicians who knew one another and had a lot in common in musical outlook. And of course in our second and third performances we have father-and-son pianists (Peter still quite young at the time), both surrounded by Marlboro Festival people. The Vanguard performance was part of its "Alexander Schneider Chamber Music Series," and Schneider himself, who was back with the Budapest Quartet at the time of its 1962 Trout recording, was the "left out" second violinist. Note that Peter Serkin's Trout recording -- if I recall the sequence correctly, actually made before his father's stereo version -- features half of the future Guarneri Quartet.

One performance issue we confront immediately is that of repeats. The Trout has a boatload of 'em -- and this in a piece that already contains, well, so much glorious repetition. I'm not sure I see the necessity of all those repeats, but on the other hand, if the music is performed well, I don't mind hearing it more. Nowadays it's hard for performers to get away without taking the long first-movement repeat. When you see a timing in the 9-minute range, you know you've got a repeatless performance, like the Horszowski-Budapest one. In the 13-minute range, like our others, you know you're getting the repeat. Finally, with regard to the tempo marking, Allegro vivace, see my note on the Scherzo.
DAVID JOHNSON: The first movement, Allegro vivace, brims over with melody -- there are three distinct themes and a codetta as distinctive as any of them. The first theme proper is preceded by some twenty-five bars of what might be called "introduction," although they are in tempo and contain, right from the first bar (the up-turning arpeggio in the piano), important thematic material. There is no doubt when Schubert really gets under way, however; we hear this lovely song from the violin:
The arpeggio figure enhances the pauses in this melody. The second theme is announced by the cello, with the violin echoing it an octave and a half above:
The third theme is easily recognized, since it is given out in full by the unaccompanied piano. Then follows the irresistible codetta, with the piano speeding along in sixteenth-note octaves at the bright top of its register while the strings interject a syncopated dotted figure which turns into a kind of miniature trumpet call as the section draws to a close. Having loaded us with riches in the exposition, Schubert is wisely frugal in the development, confining himself almost exclusively to the rather gray introductory material. But all the glorious tunes return, in proper sequence, in the recapitulation—"nothing is more welcome than a second bite at these irresistible cherries," as one commentator put it.
Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano; Budapest Quartet members (Joseph Roisman, violin; Boris Kroyt, viola; Mischa Schneider, cello); Julius Levine, double bass. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded July 8-11, 1962
Rudolf Serkin, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Philipp Naegele, viola; Leslie Parnas, cello; Julius Levine, double bass. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Aug. 15, 1967
Peter Serkin, piano; Alexander Schneider, violin; Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer, cello; Julius Levine, double bass. Vanguard, recorded c1965

ii. Andante

Did it surprise you that a movement as dramatic as the first movement of the Trout came to such an undramatic end? Why, it sort of seemed just to stop. And then somehow the Andante always seems to me to being somehow in mid-conversation, and thematically too it seems somehow to spring from the Allegro vivace. (Actually, the Andante too seems to sort of trail off rather than make a point of ending.)

This Andante isn't one of the sublimely searching ones Schubert would turn out seemingly so effortlessly later on, but it is nevertheless a honey, and again precisely tuned to the level at which the composer wished this quintet to communicate. For Schubert at his lyrical best, it seemed only natural to think of the great Czechoslovak string players I'm so fond of, and that naturally suggested an opportunity to listen to two recordings made some 18 years apart by the Smetana Quartet. By the time of the second, their frequent pianistic collaborator Jan Panenka, had been sidelined by hand problems, but then, Josef Hála is a fine collaborator too. The performances seem to me more similar than different, the later one perhaps more tightly argued, though tightness of argument isn't necessarily the point of this music. Either way, while the Smetana, as I've said before, isn't really among my favorite string quartets, the decision to call on them for this movement seems to me well rewarded at the introduction of what David Johnson descrbes below as the "new melody, harmonized in thirds and sixths by the viola and cello," at 1:20 of the Panenka-Smetana recording ( 1:17 of the Hála-Smetana, 1:10 of the Matthews-Vienna Konzerthaus).

For contrast we have the still beautiful but noticeably less lingering performance by the British pianist Denis Matthews and his Viennese cohorts.
DAVID JOHNSON: The Andante is almost as richly endowed. In F major the piano sings a long melody of beatific innocence, each of its two halves repeated by the strings. Such simple devices as trills and decorative sextuplets serve to enhance this tune. Then, still quietly, the key shifts to a more intense F-sharp minor and piano and strings prepare the way for a new melody, harmonized in thirds and sixths by the viola and cello. This theme anticipates, by some ten years, the refrain of Schubert's own well-known "Serenade." One more theme may be noted, a dotted figure followed by descending sextuplets, which issues at last in a brief but exquisite coda tune beginning thus:
After this the entire Andante is repeated in new keys but essentially the same instrumental groupings.
Jan Panenka, piano; Smetana Quartet members (Jiří Novák, violin; Milan Škampa, viola; Antonín Kohout, cello); František Pošta, double bass. Supraphon/Crossroads, recorded c1965
Josef Hála, piano; Smetana Quartet members (Jiří Novák, violin; Milan Škampa, viola; Antonín Kohout, cello); František Pošta, double bass. Denon/Supraphon, recorded October 1983
Denis Matthews, piano; Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet members (Anton Kamper, violin; Erich Weiss, viola; Ludwig Beini, cello); Josef Herrmann, double bass. Vanguard, recorded c1958

iii. Scherzo: Presto

I thought the heavily straightforward, merely four-minute Scherzo would be the easiest of the five movements to deal with, and in fact devoted most of my concern for choosing musical illustrations to the other four movements. And then I found that we've got the wildest split of all in this little movement. In fact, if you're coming new to it, I would suggest skipping straight to our second performance, the one lovely one by the British pianist Frank Glazer and members of the Fine Arts Quartet, who seem to have no difficulty getting from one slow movement to the other. What could be simpler or more straightforward?

I surmise that the then-young musicians of our first performance, pianist Zoltán Kocsis and the Takács Quartet, fixed on that tempo marking, presto. That should be, like really fast, no? And in general Schubert's tempo markings for the three "fast" movements -- Allegro vivace, Presto, and Allegro giusto -- suggest a notably lickety-splitter piece than we generally encounter. This performance of the Scherzo suggests why: There can be a whopping difference between an idea and an actual execution. Why, even the very opening upbeat isn't in the same tempo as the following repetitions that form the basis of this little phrase -- it's noticeably slower, as it frequently is when this phrase is repeated. I don't think the performers themselves believe in their tempo, or maybe they just can't execute it.

Our final performance goes in the opposite direction: more discursive, searching. I'm not sure, though, that there's much to "search out" here. Again, I think Schubert has been very careful about the "tone" level the Trout Quintet is pitched at.
DAVID JOHNSON: A Beethoven scherzo, marked Presto, ensues. The vigorous yet simple rhythm (an almost unvarying three quarter notes to the bar) contrasts with the preceding movements and the one to follow. The trio features threefold antiphony—we hear first the two upper strings, then the piano, then the two lower strings. This, too, is a procedure favored by Beethoven.
Zoltán Kocsis, piano; Takács Quartet members (Gábor Takács-Nagy, violin; Gábor Ormai, viola; András Fejér, cello); Ferenc Csontos, double bass. Hungaroton, recorded c1982
Frank Glazer, piano; Fine Arts Quartet members (Leonard Sorkin, violin; Irving Ilmer, viola; George Sopkin, cello); Harold Siegel, double bass). Concert-Disc, recorded c1960
Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Borodin Quartet members (Mikhail Kopelman, violin; Dmitiri Shebalin, viola; Valentin Berlinsky, cello); Georg Hörtnagel, double bass. EMI, recorded June 18, 1980

iv. Theme and Variations: Andantino; Allegretto

There are a lot of ways we could have gone with what is probably the Trout Quintet's best-known movement. Most obviously we could have looked for variety in our performances. However, I thought this might be a good place to put together three performances by the Amadeus Quartet, with three very different pianists. As someone who relishes luscious string tone I shouldn't be an Amadeus fan, with its characteristically more straight-up sound, and in my early listening years I wasn't. But as I've mentioned before, I was gradually won over, and I love the way they combined musical rectitude with deep feeling.

I'm not sure I can be objective about the Amadeus's EMI version with Hephzibah Menuhin (Yehudi's sister), which was the other cassette edition I owned and used to listene to a lot. Really, though, I think the reason I was so comfortable listening to it so much is that it's such a lovely, loving, and lovable performance. Menuhin's playing exudes gentleness and amiability. Rehearing it, I was, well, seduced, by the seductive loveliness and ease of her trills, and the Amadeus players are on the same wavelength. (For the record, the first movement is repeatless. Doesn't bother me -- they play it quite beautifully enough once through.)

I'm not sure what that treasurable pianist Clifford Curzon, a frequent Amadeus collaborator, had in mind in the early part of the movement, which seems almost defiantly unsentimental -- note that his trills sound weaponlike. Later on he's more his expectably winning self. And then comes the chamleonlike Emil Gilels, who as I've noted could adopt so many and such varied musical personalities. I wouldn't say that he's channeling Hephzibah Menuhin here, but they seem to me to come to pretty much the same result. Which is a good thing. It's amazing how fresh the string players sound after playing the music as often as they must have by then. But there may be just a hint that the way has become a shade too familiar, and not absolutely as revealing as it was when they were still charting their way through. Or that could just be my old comfort level with the EMI recording.
DAVID JOHNSON: Now comes the famous movement that gives this quintet its name -- variations on Schubert's song, "The Trout." A.J.B. Hutchings remarked about this movement, "Schoolboys love the variations in which the tune can always be heard with such slight but delicious alteration, and old boys who do not love them are advancing in sin as well as in years." The original song has a marvelous accompaniment in which the piano describes the trout flashing through the water, but Schubert seems (we mistakenly think) only interested in the melody sung by the voice. This melody, played (Andantino) by the strings alone, serves as the theme of the variations:
Variation 1: the piano takes over the tune, the strings buoying it up with broken triads and high trills. Variation 2: lower strings and piano alternate in the theme against a graceful running counterpoint in the violin. Variation 3: the melody is carried by double bass and cello while the piano rushes along in vigorous thirty-second notes. Variation 4: a mock-heroic variation beginning in stormy D minor but changing to a more serene and contrapuntal F major in its second half. Variation 5: a meltingly lovely variant for Herr Paumgartner's cello, even more beautiful than the original tune. But the greatest delight of all is the final variation, or coda, which is in fact the original song, pure and simple, with the strings taking the part of the voice and the piano playing the 'til-now suppressed accompaniment as the trout once more leaps and frolics through the water.
Hephzibah Menuhin, piano; Amadeus Quartet members (Norbert Brainin, violin; Peter Schidlof, viola; Martin Lovett, cello); J. Edward Merrett, double bass. EMI, recorded Oct. 15-17, 1958
Clifford Curzon, piano; Amadeus Quartet members (Norbert Brainin, violin; Peter Schidlof, viola; Martin Lovett, cello); J. Edward Merrett, double bass. BBC Music, recorded live, July 17, 1971 (mono)
Emil Gilels, piano; Amadeus Quartet members (Norbert Brainin, violin; Peter Schidlof, viola; Martin Lovett, cello); Rainer Zepperitz, double bass. DG, recorded 1975

v. Finale: Allegro giusto

That wonderful, naturally propulsive Nash Ensemble performance isn't the same one used on Waiting for God, but a more relaxed later recording, with the same violinist, cellist, and bassist. In the TV performance, which certainly sounds like the Nash's earlier recording, for CRD. It's been on CD, with just the original LP filler, the Notturno for piano trio, for filler, making for a 50-minute CD. Still, if you happen to see it, I recommend it heartily. In that performance the music moves as if energized from within. Again, I'm not sure it was a great idea to go looking for "more" content.

I like the Festival Quartet seems to me more like it, and the Frager-Bartók Quartet performance even more so. (The outstanding Bartók Quartet, by the way, doesn't seem to me ever to have received its due. The group produced a number of memorable recordings, including one of the great Beethoven quartet cycles, which I'm pleased to see made it to CD in 2002.)
DAVID JOHNSON: For bountiful measure, Schubert adds a fifth movement, thus emphasizing the festive and divertimento-like character of the quintet. This finale, Allegro giusto, is neither sonata-form nor rondo but something between the two. Its deliciously indolent first subject and lively second subject (actually two themes played simultaneously by strings and piano) are thoroughly discussed during the course of the movement, but not in an orthodox development section. "If Schubert takes the lazy way out," remarks William Mann, "we may remember that he was on holiday, and that the holiday relaxation of the Trout Quintet has always been its most engaging feature, the inspiration of some of Schubert's most generously captivating melodies."
Nash Ensemble: Ian Brown, piano; Marcia Crayford, violin; Roger Chase, viola; Christopher Van Kampen, cello; Rodney Slatford, double bass. Carlton Classics, published 1987
Festival Quartet (Victor Babin, piano; Szymon Goldberg, violin; William Primrose, viola; Nikolai Graudan, cello); Stuart Sankey, double bass. RCA, recorded c1960
Malcolm Frager, piano; Bartók Quartet members (Péter Komlós, violin; Géza Németh, viola; Károly Botvay, cello); Zoltán Tibay, double bass. Hungaroton, recorded mid-late 1960s?


In Friday night's preview, after intending to offer just the song version of "Die Forelle" and the variations movement from the Trout Quintet based on it, I couldn't resist tacking on the complete quintet in the same performance from which we heard the Theme and Variations movement, knowing that we weren't going to be returning to it today. Well, today we've wound up juggling 15 performances, and at the end I thought we might bring back that highly satisfying performance by pianist Georges Pludermacher, the Trio à cordes Français, and double bassist Jacques Cazauran, which strikes a plausible and coherent tone for the strange and wonderful assortment of musics contained.

SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A, D. 667 (Trout):
i. Allegro vivace
ii. Andante
iii. Scherzo: Presto
iv. Theme and Variations: Andantino; Allegretto
v. Finale: Allegro giusto

Georges Pludermacher, piano; Trio à cordes Français; Jacques Cazauran, double bass. EMI, recorded April 1974


Labels: ,