The Toronto Symphony have a new CD out. It’s a couple of Berlioz works recorded under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis at Roy Thomson Hall in September 2018. The first piece is the rarely heard Fantaisie sur la Tempête de Shakespeare for which the orchestra is joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It’s an early piece inspired by one of Berlioz’ unrequited passions (like everything else by Berlioz!) and was considered daringly modern in its day. It’s said to be the first piece to introduce a harp to the symphony orchestra and it also includes piano four hands. It’s very colourful and rather brash which is territory that Sir Andrew excels in. There’s great clarity to both the singing and the playing.
Hell’s Fury(*) is a two man show about Hanns Eisler conceived and created by Tim Albery. It’s focussed on his time in the United States and, somewhat, on his return to the DDR. It combines songs from the Hollywood Songbook (poems by Brecht and others set by Eisler), dialogue and projections to tell the story of Eisler’s arrival in Hollywood, his work in the US, his deportation as a result of the “work” of the House Un-American Activities Committee and his return to the GDR and struggles to come to terms with the Stalinist culturecrats leading ultimately to drink, depression and death.
I got hold of the recent Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ largely because I wanted to take a look at the Super Audio CD format. On that subject my thoughts are here. But it was also a chance to listen to a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with. I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful music; lyrical rather than dramatic, except perhaps in the early sections where Herod is having a hissy fit. I can see why it’s not done very often though. It calls for seven soloists plus chorus and a big orchestra.
My recently acquired media player plays SACD disks. I recently acquired a review copy of one such. It’s the Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’enface du Christ recorded by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony. It comes with three “tracks”; standard (more or less) CD which will play on a CD player and both stereo and surround tracks in SACD format. Now “standard CD” for Chandos is a bit higher definition than most CDs. 24 bit at 48kHz versus 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. Is there a detectable difference?
The main event in last night’s programme at the TSO was the first act of Die Walküre in concert performance but it was preceded by The Ride of the Valkyries and, more substantially (if not louder) Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. It’s an interesting piece; post tonally expressionist with obvious homages to both Wagner and, especially, Mahler. Sir Andrew gave it one of the best introductions of the kind that I have heard; situating it not just in the Viennese musical lineage but also drawing helpful parallels with the visual arts; Klimt, Kokoschka etc. He also produced a reading of great clarity from the orchestra. It’s easy for a big piece of this kind to dissolve into a sort of aural mush and thereby give the “I don’t like this modern stuff” crowd ammunition that it’s just “noise”. Here the various strands, the references and even the musical jokes of the three movements were clearly delineated. Lovely stuff.
Most music lovers have probably heard the music from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in either orchestral or chamber arrangement but it’s rare for the work to be given in its full staged form but that’s how it was presented (more or less) last night at Koerner Hall by the Toronto Summer Music Festival in association with LooseTEA Music Theatre. That form includes a narrator, an actor (originally three actors, nowadays usually just a single actor/narrator) and dancer. Plus, of course, the band; violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, cornet and trombone, piano.
I’ve been taking another look at the Glyndebourne production of Berg’s Lulu that I first reviewed in April 2011. I think a reappraisal is in order. It’s a 1996 production directed by Graham Vick with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schäfer in the title role. When it first appeared it got rave reviews with Gramophone awards and the like.