Wedges – of several kinds

The thin end of one wedge is webcasting. I was supposed to be in Verbier now. Long boring story about storms, leaks and missed planes. I was planning to hear a tetralogy of my piano gods, and more, but am running after builders instead. Gutted to be missing Ferenc Rados and Grigory Sokolov - the latter still the man I regard as the greatest living pianist, and tragically one we will not hear in the UK any time soon (I understand he refuses to go through the visa rigmaroles that we require). But the good news - if wedgy - is that the concerts these past two nights featuring respectively Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich are available to watch online at Medici TV and tonight's recital by Daniil Trifonov will be webcast live as well. Starts at 6pm. So that's a bit of a comfort. Sokolov, as far as I know, is not due for the webcast line-up.

To cheer myself up for lack of mountains, I took myself off to the Wigmore Hall instead last night to hear the adorable Simon Trpceski in recital. One shouldn't complain about missing a festival elsewhere when there is so much great music to hear right here on the doorstep, and Simon didn't disappoint. His recital of Brahms, Ravel and Poulenc was a marvellous treat and I ended up reviewing it for The Arts Desk, so here is the link.

Last but by no means least, it has come to my attention that some very fine new music at the Proms is being sequestered away on its own website - "an exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection" - rather than enjoying a TV broadcast with proud trumpeting to the nation as a whole, even if the rest of those programmes will indeed be televised. I made an enquiry and received this back:
As you know we're constantly evolving the way we cover the Proms - from the introduction of the newly themed strands on TV through to increased online and Iplayer collections in an ever multi-platform world.  This year we are exploring new ways of curating and presenting the filmed performances across the season with  more Proms than ever before available online, both audio and visual.
 As part of this, and new for 2014,  we are creating an exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection, celebrating all the new music filmed across Proms 2014, bringing it together in one place for our audience with context provided by special filmed introductions by Tom Service. We will be showing the performance of Roxanna Panufnik's Three Paths To Peace in this collection and Jonathan Dove's Gaia piece in this collection. Both pieces will be available on iPlayer as soon as possible after the performance (we hope within a few days) - and will be available to view for longer for the first time, for a special 30 days, giving them access to a wider audience. We will be pointing our audience towards the New Music Collection from all our other platforms, including Proms Extra as soon as they are live...the Proms Extra iPlayer Collection,  and our TV broadcasts.

So apparently it is A GOOD THING that we CAN see good, accessible, listenable, beautiful new music AT ALL, isn't it. Wedge, end, thin.

Shouldn't the BBC be championing British composers to the rooftops? Did someone, somewhere, perhaps consider that the poor old wider public is too stupid to appreciate contemporary music on TV, however enjoyable and downright pertinent it is? Hiding it from wider view sends out an oddly mixed message from an institution that prides itself on supporting today's composers with plentiful commissions. I would put up a link to that "exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection" - only I can't find it.

Roxanna Panufnik's piece about peace opens tonight's Prom. It is the first time her music has been played at the Proms and it's long overdue. Listen live on Radio 3.


Posted in Classical Pit

This is Jonas Kaufmann’s next CD and look what’s on it…



A note for the Kaufmaniacs: this little box of delights is due out in September, we hear, and features Viennese and German operetta-plus.

Du bist die Welt für mich will also enjoy a 2015 concert tour...but not to the UK, which is a crying shame. I would conjecture that this might be a poor reflection on how our tub-thumping tabloids affect British taste in music ("Germany 1930s, eew!"). Is it possible that the delights of Lehár, Kálmán, Tauber, Benatzky, etc, and, er, Korngold - and yes, there is Korngold (Marietta's Lute Song) - are still perceived as too hard a sell in Blighty for promoters to risk it? No matter that Jonas only has to step into a hall for it to fill on the spot. Many people would be glad to hear him sing the Heathrow flight arrivals.

Incidentally, for anyone who does indeed hesitate over music they think is "Germany 1930s, eew," a number of the composers on this CD were actually Jewish. And their origins include Hungary, the Czech/Slovak regions, Vienna and more.

The tour - next April and May - will go around Germany plus Vienna, Lucerne and Paris. Full details on his site.

For the utter and total Kaufmaniacs, here is the full track listing (from the Sony Music Spanish site, which for some reason is the only place I can find it). The red highlighting is mine.

Tenor: Jonas Kaufmann
Soprano: Julia Kleiter
Orquesta: Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Director: Jochen Rieder
1. FRANZ LEHÁR (1870–1948)
Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss (Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküsst)
from Paganini
Text: Alan Patrick Herbert & Harry Dexter
2. You Are My Heart’s Delight (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!)
from Das Land des Lächelns
The Land of Smiles • Le Pays du sourire
Text: Harry Graham
3. RICHARD TAUBER (1891–1948)
Du bist die Welt für mich
from Der singende Traum
Text: Ernst Maríschka
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
4. FRANZ LEHÁR
My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue (Hab’ ein blaues Himmelbett)
from Frasquita
Text: Sigmund Spaeth
5. ROBERT STOLZ (1880–1975)
Im Traum hast du mir alles erlaubt
from Liebeskommando
Text: Robert Gilbert / Armin L. Robinson
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
6. EMMERICH KÁLMÁN (1882–1953)
Grüß mir mein Wien
from Gräfin Mariza
Text: Julius Brammer & Alfred Grünwald
7. WERNER RICHARD HEYMANN (1896–1961)
Irgendwo auf der Welt
from Ein Blonder Traum
Text: Robert Gilbert & Werner Richard Heymann
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
8. HANS MAY (1886–1958)
My Song Goes Round the World (Ein Lied geht um die Welt)
Text: Jimmy Kennedy
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
9. FRANZ LEHÁR
Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert!
from Giuditta
Text: Paul Knepler & Fritz Löhner-Beda
10. PAUL ABRAHAM (1892–1960)
Reich mir zum Abschied noch einmal die Hände
from Viktoria und ihr Husar
Text: Alfred Grünwald & Fritz Löhner-Beda
Reconstruction: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
11. RALPH BENATZKY (1884–1957)
It Would Be Wonderful Indeed (Es muss was Wunderbares sein)
from Im weißen Rössl
The White Horse Inn • L’Auberge du Cheval-Blanc
Text: Harry Graham
Arrangement: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
12. PAUL ABRAHAM
Diwanpüppchen
from Die Blume von Hawaii
Text: Emmerich Földes, Alfred Grünwald & Fritz Löhner-Beda
Reconstruction: Matthias Grimminger & Henning Hagedorn
13. ROBERT STOLZ
Don’t Ask Me Why (Das Lied ist aus)
Text: Joe Young
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
14. MISCHA SPOLIANSKY (1898–1985)
Heute Nacht oder nie
from Das Lied einer Nacht
Text: Marcellus Schiffer
Arrangement: Andreas N. Tarkmann
15. EDUARD KÜNNEKE (1885–1953)
Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk
from Die große Sünderin
Text: Katharina Stoll & Herman Roemmer
16. ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD (1897–1957)
Glück, das mir verblieb
from Die tote Stadt
Text: Paul Schott

17. FRANZ LEHÁR
Je t’ai donné mon cœur (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!)
from Das Land des Lächelns
Text: André Mauprey & Jean Marietti
Posted in Classical Pit

Dvorák’s The Jacobin in Buxton, aka When Viktor Laszlo Went Home….


In a gloriously sunny Buxton for our Alicia's Gift concert the other day, I took the opportunity to catch The Jacobin, a little-known opera by Dvorák that the doughty festival director Stephen Barlow, the conductor, had somehow, somewhere, found and resuscitated. Here he is, with director Stephen Unwin, talking about it and how it all happened:



Result? An absolute joy - indeed with a great, warm heart. This is Dvorák in Slavonic Dances mode, glittery and foot-tappy and soulful, with a touching family twist and a subplot that was almost surreal in its clash of two worlds.

The opera ostensibly takes place in the wake of the French Revolution. Bohus and his wife Julie have come home to his Czech village, where his father is the Count. But the Count has heard, on the grapevine, that Bohus has joined up with Paris's revolutionaries and become a Jacobin, and that he intends to stir up revolution at home. Hence he's disowned him and is about to make his nephew, the evil Adolf (yes, really), heir to the title instead. He blames Julie for leading Bohus astray. Of course, he has got everything wrong: Bohus is a seriously good bloke who wants to save the people from oppression.

Cue Bohus's former music master, Mr Benda (yes, really - though no relation), who is trying to marry his daughter, Terinka, off to the corrupt, pompous but "important" Filip, steward to Adolf and the Count - but she's in love with Jiri, the only guy in the village who has a decent tenor voice. The Bendas take in Bohus and Julie, convinced that they are authentic Czechs when they sing a gorgeous duet about the wonderful music of their homeland. Meanwhile Mr Benda has written a cantata for the Count, who is about to hand over power to Adolf. The choir is rehearsing - and along come two nasty policemen to press-gang Jiri into the army, ordered by Filip to get him out of the way. "You can't do that," says Mr Benda. "He's my lead tenor! Don't you know how rare good tenors are?" And no way is he going to let them take Jiri. (This is priceless.)

The final act features a poignant scene where the two elderly men, the Count and Mr Benda, recall their long association, the days when Bohus was a small boy and Mr Benda taught him piano every day, and the Count still loved Mr Benda's music. Now the Count's beloved harp-playing wife has died, Bohus has gone and all is lost. Mr Benda is trying to pave the way for Bohus and Julie's return, but the Count will not listen. Julie must win him over herself. She plays the harp and sings the lullaby with which Bohus's mother used to sing him to sleep. The Count melts, Adolf's plot is revealed just in time, the Count finds himself surrounded by long-lost family and adoring grandchildren, and they all live happily ever after.

The production by Stephen Unwin was beautifully done, simple and sweet, with some very special qualities - the choir rehearsal with the kids mucking about, or the moment when Mr Benda reaches out to the Count and very, very slowly dares to touch his shoulder. As a whole it reminded me of something...First of all, the Count is a dead ringer for Dvorák himself. But beyond that, the costumes, the stances, the story, updated to the 1930s, seemed closer to home. Just a minute....

It's Casablanca, the sequel! 'Everybody comes to Dvorák's', perhaps....

Imagine that Viktor Laszlo and Ilse have gone home to his Czech village. Julie is blonde and elegantly dressed, with hat à la Ingrid Bergman. Filip is the spitting image of Louis - the corrupt policeman played by Claude Rains - and Adolf is just like Major Strasser. Music as consolation, support and evocation is constantly present - and it is Julie who plays it again, her song evoking the long-lost happy days that the Count - an odd and older version, perhaps, of Rick - has left far behind. So similar were they that I kept expecting the excellent Nicholas Folwell, as Filip, to say 'Round up the usual suspects' and Bohus, baritone Nicholas Lester, to stir up a Czech equivalent of the Marseillaise. There is even an Yvonne and her barman, of sorts, in Terinka and Jiri.

Terinka was a superb Anna Patalong, Anne Sophie Duprels a fulsome-toned Julie, and as Mr Benda we were delighted to see and hear Bonaventura Bottone, whom I used to see in everything at ENO but hadn't heard for years. The Count was a larger-than-life Andrew Greenan - on the grapevine I heard a story that he had stepped in at the last moment and learned the role in three days, which, assuming it's true, we would never have guessed. Stephen Barlow conducted with huge flair and energy (can't we have him at ENO sometime soon, please? He'd have got my vote to be their new music director, had I had such a vote.)

And full marks to the Buxton Opera House (see above), a Matcham theatre that feels like a miniature version of our own Coliseum, even sporting a turquoise curtain, which is what the Coli had before they refurbished it and it all went red. The opera was sung in English, too. A reasonable enough decision, under the circumstances - though Czech is a particularly awkward language for which to reset the rhythms and I would very much have liked to get my own hands on the translation to give it some finer tweaks. That is a very small caveat indeed. Basically: it's wonderful.


Posted in Classical Pit