Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Listening booth 2: Benjamin Britten's Requiem, Earl Wild's rhapsodic piano

This coming Saturday, June 15, Sir Simon Rattle celebrates Benjamin Britten’s 100th anniversary with a performance of the War Requiem. His orchestra is the great Berlin Philharmonic, and they’re joined by the Rundfunkchor Berlin. You can hear it all free in real time or archived by using this link. Gramophone describes the work as follows:
Britten’s War Requiem was commissioned for the consecration of the new cathedral in Coventry and premiered in the cathedral on May 30, 1962. The work is scored for a full orchestra as well as chamber orchestra, chorus, boys’ choir, organ and three soloists which Britten conceived as being Russian (Galina Vishnevskaya), British (Peter Pears) and German (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) – the Berlin performance employs a British tenor and a German baritone. When Decca recorded the War Requiem in 1963 under Britten’s baton, it sold over 200,000 copies in its first five months of release. Since then there have been at least a dozen recordings of the work, and during the 2012-13 concert season, it will be heard in over 60 live performances around the world.
Photo by Karsh.
Britten is one of the premier British composers of the 20th century, and a very interesting person to boot. I would like to direct you to several relevant items on our virtual bookshelves: Letters From a Life: Volume Two 1939–45: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten and his anti-war opera Owen Wingrave, based on a short story by Henry James, on DVD.
I have just finished blurbing a boatload of CDs by the late, great pianist Earl Wild. At this very minute I'm listening to a 2-CD Liszt extravaganza, and it's exquisite. I highly recommend poking around amongst the Wild offerings, because he's just fantastic, and there is something for everyone.


I just have to share a little coda on Gramophone's reviewing style, which is more than a little acerbic. Here's one of their number on Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto:
Personally, I should call it Tchaikovsky's greatest work. It never conveys an impression of exacerbated nerves, and while it is full of lovely melodies, it never degenerates into sentimentality, or into that odious whining to which the composer became so prone.

9 comments:

  1. I love Liszt! His earlier pieces were vehicles for his extreme virtuosity. His tone poems depicted the works of Tasso and Petrarca so beautifully, I hungrily devoured their poetry, inspired by the music.
    Best of all, he progressed as he aged to push the limits of Romantic music into the modern age. His Transcendental Etudes, his Nuage Gris, are as modern as anything, yet beautiful and profound.
    Thank you for reminding me of the glories of his music!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JP--you're listening to the 2-CD Liszt. Which do you like best?

      Delete
    2. Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este, Die Loreley, Un Sospiro, Chopin/Liszt: My Joys, Consolation No. 3 in D flat Major are some of them.

      Delete
    3. I never heard "My Joys"--is it something put together by the pianist? A collaboration between those two seems unlikely; they speak different dialects of Piano!
      The Public Domain Review once said interest in Liszt is waning. Thanks for proving that wrong.

      Delete
  2. Wow. I didn't really realize that Gramophone was so high and mighty, especially when regarding one of the canon of undisputed musical geniuses. Of course, it's a review, and nothing more. Just one person's opinion among an infinite number of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is somewhat kinder than Eduard Hanslick's opinion of his Violin Concerto--"music that stinks to the ear."

      Delete
    2. Well, now we know never to critique Gramophone's grammar, how could they edit when their noses are too high up in the air to see the paper?

      Delete
  3. I heard an interesting discussion on NPR a few months ago about whether the conductor of a piece changes the quality, since arguably its all of the instruments together making the music. Apparently, it has been studied and conductors are crucially important, so I am sure that Simon Rattle will do Britten justice, but it's interesting to know that it might sound different with someone else conducting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I once stumbled over a BBc program that analyzed the different styles of conductors (Rattle did well) Even the best conductors have composers whose work suits their style and the orchestra's makeup better or worse. The Chicago Symphony is heavy on horns; the Vienna Philharmonic on strings.
      You are becoming quite the connaisseur to notice such things. Good for you!

      Delete