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Posts Tagged ‘Ricardo Chailly’

Aria for … Saturday – Ecco l’orrido campo (Un Ballo in maschera)

In Aria For ..., Classical Music, Opera, Verdi on November 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

Whatever happened to Susan Dunn? A soprano in the spinto tradition I have two discs of her singing. The first, from which this aria comes, is a disc of Wagner and Verdi together with Beethoven’s Ah, Perfido! conducted by Riccardo Chailly. The second is the First Act only – sadly as it is a brilliant recording – of Die Walküre in the role of Sieglinde with Klaus König and Peter Meven conducted by Maazel who surprisingly is an intuitive Wagnerian.

Ms Dunn has both formidable technique and a formidable instrument. Her voice is bright and evenly controlled throughout its range. What’s more she has a thrilling burr – almost a growl in fact – at the lower end of her register that she uses with telling effect. And all this is coupled with strong diction.

In this particular aria from Un Ballo in maschera – as well as throughout the recital CD – she deploys all these skills and her innate musicianship to amazing effect. This can be a cruel aria to perform and on more than one occasion I have seen a soprano catch themselves by failing to navigate it with due care as in parts the vocal line is cruelly exposed. This isn’t the case with Ms Dunn. Not only does she ride effortlessly above the orchestra switching when required to a most dramatic effective mezze voce with incredible ease, but she sings each note with due diligence with intense care given to phrasing and the overall arc of the vocal line with masterfully dynamic shading.

And as ever while it’s impossible in excerpts to generate real dramatic tension, Chailly leads the orchestra with due attention to detail, driving the music forward while sympathetically supporting Ms Dunn throughout.

Time to dig out more Dunn.

Something Old. Something Borrowed. Something New. Simply Brilliant.

In Beethoven, Classical Music, Review on November 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Review: Grand Baracolle Premiere (Colin Matthews, 2011) & Symphonies No. 3 “Eroica” and No. 8 (Beethoven)
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig & Ricardo Chailly.
Barbican, Tuesday 1 November 2011.

Having listened to Chailly & the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig’s complete CD edition of the Beethoven symphonies almost to the exception of anything else since I purchased them a few weeks ago, the expectation for their performance at the Barbican was incredibly high.

And neither me nor the rest of the audience were disappointed.

So far the cycle has been well received and I think that their performance of the Third and Eighth symphonies – while I cannot speak personally of the past or for future performances – will be among the strongest in the whole cycle at the Barbican.

As part of the cycle tour, Chailly commissioned a series of contemporary composers to write pieces based or inspired by Beethoven’s symphonies. This is an incredibly smart idea – it connects Beethoven’s symphonies with the modern world in a very direct way, reminds us that – in his own time – Beethoven was a revolutionary and additionally underlines the musicianship of the Gewandhausorchester itself. The concert programme recounts that Chailly only told the five composers – Carlo Boccadoro, Steffen Schleiermacher, Colin Matthews, Bruno Mantovani and Friedrich Cerha – which symphonies would be programmed alongside their own pieces and left them to draw – or not – their inspiration from that.

This particular concert opened with the premiere of Colin Matthews’ Grand Baracolle. The programme talked of inspiration not only from the Eighth Symphony but also about parallels with Mahler. To be honest, I didn’t quite get the references to Mahler – I was more reminded of Vaughan-Williams, Shostakovich and even, at time – and this may just have been transference from the expectation of hearing the Eroica – of Strauss’ Metamorphosen. But Mahler? Not really.

Colin Matthews approach was one of sonorities. The opening, dark and heavy created – as I have already said – a sound world that was for me more Vaughan-Williams or Shostakovich than Mahler. There wasn’t a translucence or transparency to the writing that I associate even with the more heavily orchestrated parts of Mahler. Rhythmically there were nods to a ‘Baracolle’ but those expecting a more lilting piece would have been disappointed. Matthews contrasted the more intense blocks of sound with delicate wind writing and lighter scored strings that were a definite nod to the second movement of the Eighth Symphony.

Overall Grand Baracolle was an original composition, well-crafted and by limiting himself only to a ‘Beethoven’ orchestra, Matthews deliberately created a direct link to what followed.

And what followed was magnificent.

Chailly showed himself to be an incredibly observant conductor in the Matthews, but in the Beethoven he sprang into life and motion.

Beethoven’s Eight is often referred to as his most ‘Haydnesque’ symphony alongside the Fourth. Clearly there are parallels but ‘Haydnesque’ is then interpreted by many as meaning ‘polite’ or ‘measured’, but what is often neglected is the humour and ‘earthiness’ of Haydn’s music and in particular his symphonies. Reminiscing once again about my university lecturer, he told us that modern day audiences had lost the art of listening to the humour in Haydn’s symphonies. In the Eighteenth Century audiences would have reacted more overtly to the humour in his symphonies and would have been more sensitive to the less overt ones that audiences today react to.

At the Barbican, Chailly and the players brought out not only the humour in Beethoven’s Eighth but also a ‘ruddiness’ in the music. This was no ‘slight’ symphony between the Seventh and the Ninth for Chailly. Far from it, they championed a more vigorous and muscular interpretation so much so that at times it seemed that the orchestra might run away with itself. But Chailly not only kept absolutely control but was a master of bringing out the individual details in every movement of the symphony – and in particular the specific details in the double bass line that are often overlooked. And Chailly clearly pointed up the humour throughout, particularly in the beautifully played second movement.

However the Third Symphony was especially memorable. Again the muscularity and energy of the performance was breathtaking and the ensemble playing was superlative.

Chailly took the first movement at breakneck speed (although perhaps a literal fraction slower that the recording?) but never sacrificed the interior detailing and lyricism of the movement for speed. Indeed there was an anger, almost a ’rudeness’ to the playing that was exhilarating – ‘con brio’ quite literally.

The Marcia Funebre had an emotional intensity rarely delivered in a live performance and before raising his baton Chailly seemed to take more than a moment to prepare himself, the orchestra and the audience. There were moments of crushing emotion. The Scherzo was all lightness of touch rather than spun out at speed. Yet as in the recording, Chailly created a real sense of inexorable momentum into the closing bars.

However, it was the Finale that was – to coin a phrase – truly ‘promethean’. Again Chailly’s pointing up of detail was immaculate. The string sections’ pizzicati was markedly aggressive yet never over-balanced the delicate scoring in the opening sections.

Indeed, of all the symphonies the Eroica is counterpoint-heavy compared to the other eight. Yet throughout Chailly maintained a clarity of the inner voices which ensured that the counterpoint shone through – for example the clarity in the opening of the development section of the first movement as well as in the second movement was crystalline.

And the timpanist? I still don’t know if it was Matthias Müller or Tom Greenleaves but once again the playing was superlative and they deserved the especial cheer at the end of the evening.

Stop Everything. And Listen. Especially To The Timpanist.

In Beethoven, Classical Music, Review on October 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Review: Symphonies 1-9 & Overtures. Katerina Beranova, Lilli Paasikivi, Robert Dean Smith, Hanno Müller-Brachmann. Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Chorus & Ricardo Chailly.

It’s difficult not to turn to clichés regarding Chailly’s recording of Beethoven’s symphonies and overtures. First of all, it’s simply remarkable that Chailly has not attempted them before – either individually or complete and I understand that the set is made up of live recordings made over the last three years.

Quite simply I have listened to almost nothing else since I downloaded the set from iTunes. And I have listened to them from beginning to end – from the first chord of the First Symphony in C Major to the closing and triumphant bars of the Choral – without interruption and without repeating or skipping a track.

Chailly’s isn’t the only set of complete Beethoven symphonies I own. Naturally I have Karajan’s recordings of 1963 and 1967 as well as Rattle’s with the Vienna Philharmonic, Zinman’s superlative set with the Tonhalle Orchestra and Hogwood’s performances on original instruments. And I also have individual performances by the likes of Fricsay – his recording of the Eroica is one of my all-time favourites – Furtwangler, Haitink, Barenboim etc. However without exception I have not listened to any of the sets from beginning to end in one sitting.

Not until now. Not until Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig of which he has been Kapellmeister since 2005.

From the very beginning it’s clear that Chailly and the players have an incredibly strong and special relationship. Not only does the orchestra play with absolute precision, but Chailly draws from them a wealth of orchestral colour, breadth of dynamic range – including real diminuendi not simply a sudden cut in the volume – and precise yet flexible ensemble playing that immediately sets these performances apart. There is an intensity, a muscularity and vigour in the playing throughout this recording that is not matched with such consistency elsewhere in my opinion.

This isn’t the place to go through each of the symphonies individually. The devil is in the detail and discovering that detail is part of the wonder.

But as I said, from the first chord of the opening Symphony in C Major Chailly’s approach has a real clarity. For Chailly, the pizzicato strings don’t merely pluck the note, they actively attack it. For conductor and orchestra this clearly isn’t just a symphonic successor to ‘Papa’ Haydn, but a completely new sound world.

My old university lecturer once told me that what Beethoven did in his symphonies was to liberate the wind and brass instruments and in some cases used them almost like a military band. And I think that this is something that is clearest in these performances. The woodwind and brass do seem more ‘liberated’ than in other sets. I don’t mean the solo elements stand out more – that is true of the other performances – but rather, and this is particularly true in the first five or so symphonies, they are not merely ‘adding padding’, but actively contributing to the overall collage of sound. Listen to the trumpets in the Second Symphony for example.

Chailly’s choice of tempi has been remarked on in some reviews. Granted his speeds are generally on the swift side – even in the slow movements – but because of the attention to detail and the virtuosity of the playing, the speeds never seem hurried but instead, seem to grow out of an increasing sense of momentum that drives the individual symphonies through their respective movements to the last dying sounds as he lowers his baton after each and every finale. And of course his generally faster tempi add to the sense of drama that is delivered in spades in each symphony and every overture.

Take Chailly’s interpretation of the ‘Eroica’ for example. From the opening chords it’s almost like the French are almost at the gates of Vienna as Chailly shines a light on the more martial aspects of the symphony. It’s literally more ‘cannon shot’ than simple chords at the beginning and this immediately creates a sense of urgency and tension. But despite the tempo, the music doesn’t sound rushed – no notes or phrases are snatched – and Chailly delivers each and every of Beethoven’s carefully marked sforzandi with great precision. And listen to how Chailly brings out the horn line in the fugal passage in the development section. Marvellous. And for Chailly, the dissonant trumpet that follows almost immediately is given equal weight without being given the undue prominence accorded it by other conductors. The second movement, Marcia funebre, is beautifully judged – Chailly clearly choosing a tempo that could literally be marched to. You can almost imagine the flag-draped coffin on the gun carriage and crowds of people looking on and in some ways reminded me of the wind symphonies and other music of French Revolutionary composer, Gossec. Perhaps for me the Scherzo that follows isn’t the Allegro Vivace that I would have liked but instead of speed Chailly points out the delicacy and humour of the writing. The final movement is simply one long whirlwind of fantastic music making.

And there is a real transparency too. Chailly skilfully ensures that all the orchestral detail and the inner parts are given equal weight. In the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony for example, Chailly weaves the wonderfully delicate counterpoint together without sacrificing any of the thematic material one over the other. And the first orchestral tutti is quite simply breathtaking before Chailly winds down the sound with incredible mastery into the second subject with no sense of the awkward ‘gear change’ that happens in some performances.

While the first eight symphonies are incredible in their own right, the crowning glory of the set is the Ninth – Choral – Symphony. From the opening bars, where Chailly allows the music to emerge almost from nothing the orchestra’s playing sweeps everything out of its path under Chailly’s relentless grip on the tempo and dynamics. The third movement, Adagio molto e cantabile, is a heart-stopping moment and Chailly draws even greater warmth from the strings and woodwind without ever becoming indulgent. The singers – Katerina Beranova, Lilli Paasikivi, Robert Dean Smith, Hanno Müller-Brachmann – and chorus are exemplary in the final movement and how delightful to hear Paasikivi again after seeing her as Fricka in Hamburg in April earlier this. Chailly magnificently marshals and drives the increased forces into the final section, drawing disciplined singing from everyone involved to bring the symphony and the set to a brilliant close.

The performances of the overtures included in the set are equally well performed, with Chailly according them their symphonic due. Pace for not writing more on them individually but they are brilliantly performed.

So what of the timpanist? It’s often difficult not to point out individual soloists in each of the sections of any orchestra but here especial credit and mention must go to the timpanist. If my research is correct it is either a gentleman by the name of Tom Greenleaves or Matthias Müller. The playing and timbre are exceptional – something I imagine is not often said of timpanists but it needs to be said here. And thrillingly he is giving a masterclass in percussion during the orchestra’s time at the Barbican.

And the entire set is wonderfully supported by the warm and generous acoustic in which it is recorded.

While I am fortunate to have tickets to see Chailly and The Gewandhausorchester perform the Third and Eighth symphonies in London very soon, I will be making it a priority to visit Leipzig as soon as to hear them on their home turf.

In the meantime, and regardless of how many different recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies you own, buy this set.

Lock the door. Turn off your phone. Make a pot of tea. And listen.

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