Browsing: La Scena Online

Just by reviewing this recording I will be accused of taking sides in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, such is the ferocity and pettiness of the largely unreported conflict. Mansurian is, as his name suggests, Armenian. Born in Beirut in 1939 to refugees from the Turkish genocide in Armenia, he returned to Yerevan in the 1950s and lived there fruitfully under Soviet rule and after. The title track of this album is a meditation for sextet on the 13th string quartet of Dmitri Shostakovich composed in a mixture of Kurtag-like fragments and long devotional…

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In the summer of 2018, cellist Ofra Harnoy and her husband, classical and jazz musician Mike Herriott, went on vacation to Newfoundland, where the British-born Herriott had lived between the ages of 7 and 21. That same year, they left Toronto and moved to St. John’s. “I was struck by the beauty of the place,” recalls Harnoy, “and the wonderful energy of the people there. Mike and I discussed it, and we decided to look at houses during that visit. We had a few criteria that we wanted to fulfill. Mike needed to have a space that could be used…

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In the space of a single-page survey, it would be impossible to give a comprehensive overview of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on record, so we will devote the following lines to some of the more outstanding ­versions on disc, both old and new. Among those of older vintage, Wilhelm Furtwängler´s 1951 ­performance and Arturo Toscanini’s a year later are benchmarks. While the first of these took place at the Bayreuth Festival at its re-opening six years after the end of World War II, the ­second is part of the 85-year old conductor’s late-life undertaking of committing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s…

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An unprepossessing Parisian teacher of piano and solfège received an unexpected career boost when the victorious General Pershing opened a French music school for Americans at Fontainebleau, near Paris, in 1921. Nadia Boulanger applied for an advertised vacancy and was appointed professor of harmony. Before long she was the go-to teacher for Americans in Paris, of whom there were a great many in the 1920s when the living was cheap and the romance abundant. The shy and unconfident Aaron Copland signed up for her first semester.  George Gershwin applied for private lessons. In 1924, Boulanger was sent on a US tour to…

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Like Beethoven’s Mass in C major which is overshadowed by the mighty Missa Solemnis, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is sometimes mistaken for the War Requiem although the two works have nothing in common. The Sinfonia, a work for orchestra alone, last just 20 minutes and is riddled with personal ambivalence. Britten was commissioned to write it in 1939, having recently settled in New York and been exposed to its cosmopolitan lifestyle, s much more colourful than London’s greys. The commission came from the Japanese Government, to mark the 2,600th anniversary of its ruling dynasty. Japan had brutally invaded China.…

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You’ll often hear me telling people a couple of generations down the line that they should listen to new music of our time rather than Beethoven and Mahler, which they will enjoy better once they are in their 50s. Can’t say I’ve made many converts. All the usual excuses: get home from work, make supper, put the kids to bed, veg out on the sofa, no concentration left for the squeaks and squawks of contemporary composers. Yeah, been there, done that. But I’m not giving up trying to persuade younger people to listen to the new. Wrap your ears, for…

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The most popular and prolific composer of his time, Malcolm Arnold was shunned by the British music establishment for being, mostly, too popular and prolific, and therefore a potent threat to the nonentities who were not. Arnold (1921-2006) had other crosses against his name. He was a former orchestral player (working class), an Oscar winner (disgraceful), a tonal symphonist (non-BBC-pc), an alcoholic and a philanderer who suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. In short, he was everything the suits hated. Proof of their power is attested by this one-act opera which, written in 1952, was rejected by a panel of…

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The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has issued an oblong boxed set of its inaugural concerts with music director Kirill Petrenko. The new chief’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s fifth and sixth symphonies cannot be praised too highly; they set the benchmark for these works in the coming decade as Herbert von Karajan’s recordings did for the 1970s. I find Petrenko’s Beethoven 7th memorable and the 9th appropriately resplendent. But what grabbed my attention was his inclusion of works by Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and Rudi Stephan (1878-1915), the former a marginal figure, the latter a frontline casualty of the First World War. Of the two,…

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Georg Solti used to say that Leo Weiner (1885-1960) was his best teacher in Budapest. Since his other professors at the Franz Liszt Academy included Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, this was no small compliment. Weiner, who shared Solti’s Jewish identy, was a selfless bachelor who took vicarious pleasure in his pupils’ successes and was reluctant to promote his own works. Solti aside, his students included the conductors Eugene Ormandy (Philadelphia), Fritz Reiner (Pittsburgh, Chicago), Antal Dorati (Minneapolis, Detroit, Washington) and the cellist Janos Starker (Cleveland). He may have done more than any individual conductor to shape the sound of…

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Dame Ethel Smyth: The Prison (symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra) Words by H.B. Brewster. Dashon Burton, bass-baritone (The Prisoner). Sarah Brailey, soprano (His Soul). Experiential Chorus and Orchestra/James Blachly CHANDOS CHSA 5279 Total Time: 64:00 Just recently I finally got around to reading Jan Swafford’s authoritative biography of Brahms. In the book there were several references to Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) and her comments about Brahms. I then turned to Smyth’s autobiographical Impressions That Remained to learn more. As a young woman Smyth had gone to Leipzig in 1878 to study music and became a pupil of Heinrich von…

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