Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mozart – Requiem – Nikolaus Harnoncourt

After last two centuries of historical and musicological research problem of authorship of Mazart’s missa pro defunctis is still vivid question. Sometimes it looks like the authorship issues were not as much interesting alone as connected to this research question of composers intentions. And this could be the crucial question for almost every artistic event. In this special case intentions are meaningful for investigating what parts are real Mozart’s and what are only styling. Romantic legends say about poisoning composer and creating in last minutes work becoming his artistic testimony. The effect were dozens of solemn, heavy mourning interpretations of always the same Süssmayr’s version. Just like Mozart wasn’t the one who decided about the style of classical era. In last decades of twentieth century raised the whole movement for creating new vision of final Mozart’s oeuvre, by correcting evident mistakes, by playing it on instruments from Mozart’s time or just by interpreting the work more classical than romantic way.

Mozart – Requiem – Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1982)

Important recording of the Requiem was made by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his orchestra Concentus musicus Wien for Telefunken in 1982. This great rendition was founded on the traditional basis of well known Mozart’s Requiem structure with additions by Franz Xaver Süssmayr but in new and improved instrumentation  by Franz Beyer. Great sound of the orchestra and again Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor are playing the main narrative role. Choir have the full spectrum of dynamics and articulation and its sound is perfectly set in meaningful interpretation. Soloists, Rachel Yakar, Ortrun Wenkel, Kurt Equiluz and Robert Hall are relatively less independent than in other recordings, treated rather as a chamber continuation of the choir part. Anyway these four great voices with this unbelievably precise performance are demarcating new standards of vocal expression. Partly it is also effect of improved sound of instrumental parts. Softly and deeply, tragic consciousness of inevitable death is coming to be listener’s intimate experience. Under Harnoncourt’s baton Requiem is closer to the performing style of Coronation Mass than to many other renditions of this work. When this comes out of knowledge about the style and artistic technology, musicians can follow text as it was open space for many possibilities. But only talented musicians can follow the Mozart’s music in such narrative manner. And maybe this is what makes Harnoncourt’s recording so much exceptional.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mozart – Requiem – Karl Böhm

It’s well-founded question why last sacred work, messa pro defunctis gained as high popularity as any of other Mozart’s masses never did. What is exceptional in this work, that makes it outdistanced hundreds of great works of this kind. Listening to many other requiem messes composed during span of four centuries from renaissance to classical era it is easy to notice music tries to bring relief and in many cases even express the joy of taking part in eternal life. Even in two centuries after Mozart death there were relatively small number of requiems expressing negative emotions but probably none of so intense tragic effect. No wonder. The faithful Christian interpretation of mess for the dead leads to the conviction of the inevitability of God's will as well as his mercy. This is why, early requiems, especially composed in baroque era by Biber, Lotti, Praetorius, Zelenka or even Fux but also twentieth century settings of mass for the dead e.g. Duruflé and Fauré have this cheerful nature, Mozart’s work uses only as contrasting level for main idea of the cycle. 
In this context the question of Mozart’s faith is inevitable but still many writers take it as fundamentalist assumption of his Catholicism. Just like he never refuse to obey the archbishop of Salzburg Count Hieronymus von Coloredo. Or like Mozart was not engaged in freemasonry. There are even some symbolic connections between Masonic music and Requiem. The Introitus opens with mysterious phases of fagotti and corni di bassetto accompanied by strings and basso continuo. This setting was often used for illustration of the secret or mystery. The problem of composer’s religious views is not easy to solve because too many authors do not distinguish between the quest for truth and their private religious feelings. Artists are in quite different situation. They have full rights to express personal beliefs.

Mozart – Requiem – Karl Böhm (1971)

Among many great recordings of Mozart’s Requiem the legend for decades was the one Karl Böhm recorded with Vienna Philharmonic for the Deutsche Grammophon in 1971. The orchestra and Vienna State Opera Concert Choir were the same as in five years earlier recording by István Kertész for Decca Records but effect obtained by Böhm is quite oposite. He resolved the dilemma of dramatic tension in Mozart’s Requiem and apparent fear of death by balancing elements of horror with cantilena parts, especially for solo voices. He has great group of soloists. Bright soprano of Edith Mathis, dark but open alto of Julia Hamari, lyric tenor of Wiesław Ochman and dramatic bass of Karl Ridderbusch – the whole quartet sounds rich and transparent especially in Tuba mirum where every personality is quite readable and moving and in quartet they sound just phenomenal. Vocal parts are the greatest reward and consolation for the Christian existentialism of this interpretation. Böhm’s rendition of Requiem is extremely traditional, with very slow tempi strengthening the solemn character of the key parts of the work. Just like he was trying like to express, we have no other choice than to surrender and believe in God’s providence and in principles.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mozart – Requiem – István Kertész

Although this famous work occupies highest, 626th position in Köchel’s Catalogue, Requiem D Minor in fact wasn’t the last composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Romantic legends about finishing the work laying in deathbed were probably Constanze’s imaginary to avoid refunding of half payment received in advance for the work, and to collect the rest. The mysterious commissioner occurred to be Count Franz von Walsegg, musical dilettante with ambitions to be composer. He presented compositions bought anonymously from various composers as his own works. Requiem was commissioned for commemorate the anniversary of Count’s wife. But Mozart was really scared of strange contract and said to Constanze, he had the premonition he is writing Requiem for his own funeral. Maybe this is why he put aside unfinished score so many times, composing meanwhile many as great works as operas La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte or Clarinet concerto A Major.
After Mozart’s death widow was in difficult material situation. She turned to composer’s friend Joseph Leopold Eybler, and after he gave up, she asked her husband’s copyist Franz Süssmayr to finish the piece. Later she created the next floor legend about Süssmayr was Mozart’s student. She also forced him to swear that he never betray that it was him who finished the Walsegg’s commission. In last decades of twentieth century there were several completions of Mozart’s work but Süssmayr’s version is still most popular among many different restorations.

Mozart – Requiem – István Kertész

Born in Budapest István Kertész, one of Holocaust survivors, was great Hungarian orchestral and operatic conductor. He died very young, drowned while swimming in Mediterranean Sea when he was only 43. His untimely death stopped rapidly growing international career. Kertész was internationally renowned for his work with best orchestras and for brilliant recordings for Decca. Legendary recording with Wiener Philharmoniker of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn is one of master recordings. He recorded also complete symphonies by Brahms, Dvořák, Schubert and a lots of symphonic works by Mozart, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Ravel, Respighi, Schumann, Shostakovich and many others.
In 1966 Kertész recorded master interpretation of Mozart’s Requiem. Orchestra of Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Choir gave great performance. Perfectly set tempos and precise diversified dynamics help to show the power of some rough instrumentation solutions. Great part of this performance is the quartet of soloists Elly Ameling, Marylin Horne, Ugo Benelli and Tugomir Franz. Beautiful voices and musical refinement developed from inspiration of Mozart’s melodic and harmonic order. This performance is pretty much dramatic, full of fear and suffering, yet it is strongly encouraging to accept doubts and reconcile with everything what is both inexplicable and inevitable.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mike Oldfield’s Orchestral Tubular Bells

Mike Oldfield’s first and most popular record Tubular Bells was also great success of Virgin Records – new label started with this recording its beautiful growth and multidirectional development. After premiere of second Oldfield’s album Hergest Ridge it became clear that commercial potential of popular composer’s suites is almost unlimited. Pressure of managers for publishing next tittles was fully understandable. One of popular ideas of seventies was to create projects joining rock and orchestral music in both directions – by playing symphonic classics in arrangements with electric instruments and typical drum set and by arranging popular tunes in symphonic manner. Creating the symphonic version of Tubular Bells was only a question of a time. And in early autumn of 1974 it became real challenge for David Bedford who rearranged whole composition and recorded symphonic version of this composition with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Published by Virgin Records Orchestral Tubular Bells was first unsuccessful Oldfield’s recording.

Mike Oldfield’s Orchestral Tubular Bells (1975)

Orchestral versions of Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge were subject of well sold shows but Oldfield himself was not contented with it. Both arrangements were made David Bedford, well known composer and master of orchestration, but his attitude was too academic and conservative. Classical style of orchestration was not adequate to music by Mike Oldfield. Recording of Tubular Bells made for Virgin in September 1974 was in many parts just imperfect. The wind section was able to carry best parts of arrangements where it was only part of orchestral sound, but fault in episodes where winds led melodic and harmonic narration. Articulation was exaggerated thus Oldfield's phrases in Bedford's rendition sound sometimes too emphatic and in consequence just grotesque.
Maybe most disappointing part of orchestration is coda. In Oldfield’s original recording it’s only kind of alternative culminating point, light and witty end of the whole composition. In orchestral version this finishing episode matches more Popeye dance than joyous exploring the range of folk modes. What is exalted and affirmative in Oldfield’s suite, in Bedford’s orchestration sounds forced and stilted. And here comes the real value of this orchestration. It’s inadequate and conservative, it is not connected to the original Oldfield’s style, so we can clearly see no other version of recording may compete with the very first Tubular Bells rendition. And this is really comforting, there’s no way to falsify music. In music always sounds the truth about our thoughts and values.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gustav Mahler – Kinertotenlieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Maybe most thrilling songs ever composed is Gustav Mahler’s cycle of five mourning songs about death of the infants – Kindertotenlieder. Texts for all five songs composer choose from ample collection of 428 poems written by German romantic poet, Friedrich Rückert. In 1833 and 1934 he wrote numerous poems about illness and death of his children. These poems were part of private grieving, perhaps even a kind of self-therapy, and the author did not intend to publish them. Rückert was professor of oriental languages at The University of Erlangen and in Berlin, master of thirty languages and outstanding translator of essential poetic, wisdom and religious works of Middle and Far East, especially literary documents of ancient civilizations. German culture owes him Indian legends and tales, arabic makamas and folksongs. Inter alia Rückert made translations of Koran and Wisdom of Bramins in six volumes. He was also the author of inspiring poems many composers used for their song cycles. 
Mahler composed the cycle Kindertotenlieder in first four years of the century. It was most dramatic part of Mahler’s Vienna period – last year of his directorship in Vienna Philharmonic and increasing hostility against him after resignation. New cycle was premiered January 29, 1905 with Friedrich Weidemann as soloist and orchestra conducted by the composer. Four years after he composed these songs, Mahler’s daughter Maria died to scarlet fever. Later Mahler wrote, he was placing himself in situation of father mourning his children, but after such traumatic experience he wouldn’t be able to compose these songs.

Gustav Mahler – Kinertotenlieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

There are many good renditions of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder cycle. Considered as absolutely classic recording is the one featuring Kathleen Ferrier with Wienner Philharmoniker under the baton of Bruno Walter recorded in 1949. And it is the reference recording for many later performances. Among highly interesting interpretations of the cycle is that which has been published by Hungaroton in 1980 (SLPX 12044). Hungarian mezzosoprano Klára Takács did a wonderful job here. While maintaining the lyrical mood, she discreetly grades tension leading the listener to a climax and pervasive sense of loss. Singer's voice sounds great, is deep and saturated, but still transparent, fully interacting with the orchestra. The same with instrumental layer of the work which was never limited to accompany the soloist, but together with her vibrant voice is building multi-dimensional space of the work. Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by György Lehel gave here excellent performance, one of the whole series published by Hungaroton Records in the eighties. 
On the B-side of the album publisher placed other great Mahler’s cycle – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Travelling Journeyman) with baritone Sándor Sólyom Nagy and with the same orchestra and conductor. Soloist was one of distinctive European vocalists known in the eighties as an expert of late romantic repertoire. He was also known from performances in Wagner’s operas. This cycle was finished in 1885 and is way easier to interpret than composed twenty years later Kindertotenlieder. Travelling journeyman (or in less precise, traditional translation, Wayfarer) is author’s porte-parole who was under impression of unhappy love affair. Poetic texts were written by composer but the idea of first song was taken from Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection. There are also some thematic links between this cycle and First Symphony. The Nagy’s interpretation is very traditional and emotional in conception and execution. And he has proved he had the whole talent he needed for interpreting in such way the most popular Maler’s songs.