Sunday, 12 April 2009

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) - Missa In Angustiis (Nelson Mass)

On 28 June 1798, Lord Horatio Nelson arrived at Alexandria in hot pursuit of Napoleon's troops for Egypt. On 1 August 1798, he cornered the French fleet at Abukir and blew them to bits in one of the most brilliant victories for the Allies in the long and seemingly hopeless war.

Far away, in the Austrian town of Eisenstadt, Joseph Haydn, Princely Kapellmeister to His Serene Highness, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, was in the middle of the new Mass. As Haydn was writing the last pages, news of the great victory at Abukir reached Naples. The fastest couriers rode breakneck northwards.

On the very day of the first performance - 15 September - Count Zinzendorf, a Viennese aristocrat close to court circles, noted in his diary. "Thugut a fait assurer à Saurau que l'admiral Nelson a brulé la flotte de Buonap. dans le port d'Alexandre".

Haydn could not have known of the battle as he was writing the Mass, but from the first performance, everyone referred to the Missa In Angustiis (Mass in time of fear, which Haydn gave to the work in his own catalogue) as the "Nelson Mass".

The "Nelson Mass" is arguably Haydn's greatest single composition. The scoring is in itself most curious: three trumpet parts, timpani, solo organ, which Haydn himself played, strings, and the usual soli and tutti vocal parts. The key, D minor, is most unusual, too. But its outward layout scarcely prepares us for the ferocious power of the beginning, with its insistent trumpet and drum parts and the stately splendour with which this vast, almost mediaeval pageant unfolds.

Haydn's Nelson Mass became very famous in the years following. In this recording Haydn's authentic text as established by the autograph and two sets of contemporary and authentic parts was used: the original performance material at Eisenstadt and an early set of parts by Haydn's copyist, Johann Elssler, in Klosterneuburg Monastery. Further early sets of parts in the Monastery of St Paul, in the Cathedral Church of Oradea Mare (Romania), and a score in the British Museum were also collated for this recording !

Sylvia Stahlman outside King's College

The performance (of the Nelson Mass) is very fine indeed ... Sylvia Stahlman's firm and fresh voice rings out clearly in the dramatic and florid passages allotted to her and is beautifully expressive in the few softer passages.

The CD was released by DECCA, P 1962/1963/1966 C 2000 (ADD). DECCA 458 623-2 DM.

Soprano: Sylvia Stahlman
Contralto: Helen Watts
Tenor: Wilfred Brown
Baritone: Tom Krause

The Choir of King's College, Camebridge, London Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Sir David Willcocks

Track List:

Joseph Haydn: Missa In Angustiis, Hob. XXII: 11
  1. Kyrie (5'05")
  2. Gloria In Excelsis Deo (3'30")
  3. Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi (4'30")
  4. Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus (2'46")
  5. Credo In Unum Deum (1'53")
  6. Et Incarnatus Est (4'18")
  7. Et Resurrexit (3'47")
  8. Sanctus (2'24")
  9. Benedictus (6'01")
  10. Agnus Dei (3'29")
  11. Dona Nobis Pacem (2'50")
Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria in D major, RV 589

12. Gloria in excelsis Deo (2'33")
13. Et in terra pax (4'36")
14. Laudamus Te (2'19")
15. Gratias agimus tibi (0'31")
16. Propter magnam gloraim tuam (1'01")
17. Domine Deus, Res Coelestis (3'57")
18. Domine Fili Unigenite ((2'22")
19. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (3'25")
20. Qui tollis peccata mundi (1'13")
21. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (2'51")
22. Quoniam tu solus Sanctus (0'50")
23. Cum Sancto Spiritu (3'08")

George Frideric Handel, Zadok The Priest, HWV 258

24. Zadok the priest (5'48")

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Jules Massenet (1842-1912) - Ève (Mysterium In 3 Parts) (World Premiere Recording)

Eve - Song In Praise Of Love: After God created Adam, He saw that it was not good for Man to be alone. Thus He gave him Eve, the first woman, as a companion. The mystic-romantic oratory "Eve" describes the story from the creation of Eve to the Fall of man in dramatic musical pictures.

Who doesn't know the story from Genesis (1st Book of Moses) with which all patriarchal, monotheistic believers have been influenced since time immemorial, that with Woman, doom had entered into a once immaculate creation.

Massenet's "Mystère en 3 Parties", with a text from Louis Gallet, uses all of the dramatic possibilities for dramatising the temptation to sin: a voice from heaven.

A speaker (tenor), voices of the night, spirits of hell, and the voices of nature (choir) accompany an event in which all reality is laid bare through its allegorising.

While Adam fundamentally remains a henpecked husband in paradise, Eve is perfectly aware of erotic power, which irresistibly lures her to the tree of knowledge on which the fatal apples grow.
It is unavoidable that the only thing forbidden to those in paradise must be tasted. Adam bites, lured by desire for the fateful fruit. What results is known to all: this vale of tears, the world.
We carry sin as a burden of guilt, as original sin, as cosmic bad conscious around with us.

But Massenet and his librettist, Galet, were no Frenchmen who viewed this fall from grace with a finger raised in accusation, as was undoubtedly the Germanic tendency. Adam and Eve were banished from paradise because they had given heed to the spirits of hell.

In concluding song they accept all divine punishment, but there is one thing they do not wish to relinquish: "Punish us but leave us the joy of love. Let us remain united." Thus with Massenet the power of love triumphs - and musically most vividly - over divine retribution because love is subjet only to its own law.

Jules Massenet, born in 1842 in Montaud, Loire, was the last of twenty-one children (!). He studied in Paris under Ambroise Thomas ("Mignon") and soon received the much sought after "Prix de Rome", which in France was always a springboard to success.

With the operas "Le grand´tante" (1867) and "Don César de Bazan" b(1872), Massenet quickly made an excellent name for himself in Paris, and from a motive unknown suddenly wrote an oratorio in 1873: "Marie Magdeleine." With this religious work Massenet entered a terrain that captivated him forever, and from many points of view pointed the way for the nation with three further works in this genre.

The "Mysterium" (= oratorium) Ève followed in 1875. This composition, in all of its simplicity, the well-known story of original sin in paradise, is much more full of fantasy and decidedly more intensive in its dramatic means of expression, and is in better taste than "Magdeleine."

The master of the parlante (patter song) was able to dress the opera in spiritual clothing from within the severe and basic Catholic tenet of his country.

After 1878 Massenet was a professor at the famous Conservertoire and became a musical institution in Paris - uncontested until his death in 1912. This fame was naturally supported by further operas, such as "Werther", "Thais", and "Don Quichotte". His influence on the works of Claude Debussy and Giacomo Puccini is not to be underestimated.

The CD was released by Arte Nova Classics, 1998 (DDD). Arte Nova 74321 58964 2.

Soprano: Susanne Geb
Baritone: Armin Kolarczyk
Tenor: Angelo Simos

Three Nation Choir, Euregio Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Jeanpierre Faber

Track List:
  1. Première Partie - 1. Prologue - La Naissance de la femme: Introduction et choeurs (05'07")
  2. 2. Adam et Eve: Prélude (02'36")
  3. Scène et duo (08'11")
  4. Récit (00'54")
  5. Choeur (03'51")
  6. Deuxième Partie - 3. Eve dans la solitude: Choeur - Prélude (02'57")
  7. Air (03'28")
  8. Scène et choeur (08'38")
  9. Troisième Partie - 4. La Faute: Prélude (02'18")
  10. Air (02'34")
  11. Duo (08'26")
  12. 5. Epilogue - La Malédiction: Récit (03'02")
  13. Choeur (05'18")

Sunday, 5 April 2009

César Franck (1822-1890) - The Seven Words Of Christ On The Cross (sung in Latin)

The fact that Franck's liturgical and religious music in the widest sense of the term has become to be dismissed as second-rate in the consciousness of the generations which succeeded him is probably to be attributed to the fact that during the last 15 years of his life - uncontestedly the period of his mature work - he completely turned his back to religiously motivated music of this kind for the sake of chamber and orchestral music, whereas church music was the dominant element in the early and most of all the middle period of his life.

One of the most striking compositions of the middle period is The Seven Words Of Christ On The Cross. Completed on August 14, 1859 and without an opus number, the work is puzzling: although a product of care and craftsmanship, it was not performed during the composer's lifetime. In fact, even the writers of music history were unaware of the existence. It was performed for the first time in 1977, i.e. almost 120 years after being written, after Armin Landgraf discovered the autograph in the University Library of Liège while doing research of Franck's church music, it having come into the possession of the library in 1955 after having been in private hands previously.

In the course of the music history, the dignity of the text has inspired a number of composers to put these biblical words to music (Schütz, Haydn); yet this did not actually result in the establishment of a genre tradition, i.e. a type of music with a precisely definable function and equally definable demands to be made on the composer.

Thus Franck selects a Latin version of the text in which he combines the words of Christ with additional biblical texts and liturgical texts not deriving from the Bible to form larger, self-contained units which are premised by a prologue.

Unpretentious in terms of harmonization and intended to be meditative rather than dramatic, the work is nevertheless very powerful, with the composer careful to make sure that the eight movements are combined to form a cyclical structure.

In doing so he employs hiw own key symbolism, i.e. he foregoes the use of sharp keys which for him represent light and joy and favours the minor keys. Twice - in the first and the fifth Word - the meditative atmosphere which dominates the piece is interrupted by dramatic elements, whereby elements of the grand-opéra shine trough.

The CD was released by AUDITE, 1993 (ADD). audite 95.432.

Soprano: Edith Wiens
Tenor: Raimundo Mettre
Bariton: Thomas Pfeiffer
Bass: Ivo Ingram

Choir & Orchestra Philharmonie Schwäbisch Gmünd, Conductor: Hubert Beck

Live recording 21 November 1979 in Heilig-Kreuz-Münster Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.

Track List:
  1. Prolog: O Vos Omnes, Qui Transitis Per Viam (4'49)
  2. (1) Pater, Dimitte Illis (5'39"
  3. (2) Amen, Dico Tibi (4'17")
  4. (3) Mulier, Ecce Filius Tuus (6'55")
  5. (4) Deus Meus, Ut Quid Dereliquisti Me ? (3'45")
  6. (5) Sitio ! (6'42")
  7. (6) Consummatum Est (5'30")
  8. (7) Pater, In Manus Tuas (3'33")

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Barbra Streisand - Classical Barbra

Songs and Arias sung by Barbra Streisand: Claude Debussy, Joseph Canteloube, Hugo Wolf, Gabriel Fauré, Carl Orff, Georg Friedrich Händel, Robert Schumann, Claus Ogerman.

When one of the greatest popular singers of our time records an album of classical songs, the result has to be something unique. What Barbra has done here will come as a surprise and revelation.

Barbra is one of the most versatile talents in the business, but this recording reveals that her versatility and her gifts are even greater than anyone has ever guessed.

On "Dank Sei Dir, Herr": This great religious song came to light early in this century, and although its exact source is still unknown, the style and manner of the music leave little doubt that Händel, indeed, composed it.

As in "Lascia Ch'io Pianga, there are to be found traits that characterize all that Händel wrote - greatness achieved with a minimum of melodic and harmonic complexity.

The CD was released by Sony, P 1976 C 1993 (ADD). Sony Masterworks SK 33452.

Barbra Streisand, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Conductor/Piano: Claus Ogerman

Track List:
  1. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) - Beau Soir (2'37")
  2. Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957) - Brezairola (3'44")
  3. Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) - Verschwiegene Liebe (2'55)
  4. Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) - Pavane (Vocalise) (5'29")
  5. Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) - Après Un Reve (3'22)
  6. Carl Orff (1895 - 1982) - In Trutina (2'08")
  7. Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) - Lascia Ch'io Pianga from Rinaldo (3'38")
  8. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) - Mondnacht (3'55")
  9. Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) - Dank Sei Dir, Herr (3'42")
  10. Claus Ogerman (b. 1930) - I Loved You (2'16")
A big "Thank You" to Barbra Streisand for these great arias !

Friday, 3 April 2009

Anton(in) Dvorak (1841-1904) - Mass op. 64/Te Deum op. 103

The Mass in D Major comes along in two versions: the original with organ accompaniment and the later version with orchestra. It is one of the works which Dvorak composed through the active support and encouragement of a Prague architect, Josef Hlàvka, who was the founder, patron and first president of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts. The Mass was not intended for a great public occasion but for the conscration of the private chapel at Hlàvka's castle on his country estate at Luzany on 11 September 1887. Therefore, in its frist version, this Mass had an accompaniment only for organ, the version with orchestra coming five years later.

Equally it is a Mass for the Bohemian country Baroque parish churches, so central a feature of every Czech town and village, rather than one requiring the splendour of the ritual in a city cathedral.

Dvorak conducted the first performance at the consecration of the chapel and the first concert performance was given in Plzen on 15 April 1888, when the accompaniment was for two harmoniums, violoncello and two double basses.

Dvorak's main publisher, Simrock in Berlin, refused the work but Novello's in London, with whom the composer had such a happy relationship, accepted the work on the condition that he provided an orchestrated version as well. Thus, between 24 March and 15 June 1892, Dvorak completed the orchestration of the Mass in D Major and this version received its first performance at the Crystal Palace. London on 11 March 1893.

Dvorak received an invitation to take up the post of Director of the new National Conservatory in New York in 1892. He remained there for three years. Dvorak's arrival was to coincide with the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

For this reason the founder of the new Conservatory asked Dvorak for a work to be performed on 12 October 1892. When Dvorak didn't receive a suitable text for the work from the Conservatory, he decided to chose the text of Te Deum Laudamus that took one month to be composed.

Dvorak had a choir of two hundred and fifty in New York when the work was first performed in the New York Music Hall on 21 October 1892.

The CD was released by Chandos, 1996 (DDD). CHANDOS CHAN 9505.

Soprano: Marina Meshcheriakova
Bass: Sergei Miasnikov

Russian State Symphonic Capella, Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Valéry Polyansky

Track List:

Mass in D Major, Op. 86 (B. 175)
  1. Kyrie (8'44")
  2. Gloria (9'20")
  3. Credo (12'05")
  4. Sanctus (2'19")
  5. Benedictus (7'23")
  6. Agnus Dei (5'23")
Te Deum. Op. 103 (B. 176)

7. Te Deum Laudamus (6'13")
8. Tu Rex Gloriae, Christe (4'38")
9. Aeterna Fac Cum Sanctis Tuis In Gloria Numerari (2'58")
10. Dignare, Domine, Die Isto Sine Peccato Nos Custodire (5'32")

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) - Messe de Requiem, Opus 54

The Requiem Mass occupies a special place in Saint-Saens's religious choral works. Its dedicatee was a friend named Albert Libon, who had made a bequest to the composer of 100.000 Francs on condition that Saint-Saens should write a Requiem to be performed after Libon's death. This occured in 1877 and early the following spring. Saint-Saens travelled to Switzerland where he composed the Mass in its entirety within the space of eight days.

Unlike Berlioz and Verdi, whose respective Requiems were conceived in grandiose and quasi-operatic styles, Saint-Saens's compositions never loses sight of the church.

As in the Requiem of Fauré, a lifelong friend of the older composer, the vocal writing throughout is both devotional and entreating, with soloists and chorus echoing each other in urgent supplication. The scoring is discreet and lucid, the harps in particular making notable contributions to the accompaniment with filigrees of sound.

The organ too has an important part, and is often used with striking effect, as in the Tuba Mirum section of the Dies Irae, where it is joined by four unison trombones.

The sorrow in the music, particularly in the opening pages of the Requiem, and again in the Agnus Dei, takes on an added poignancy when we learn that not long after Saint-Saens returned from Switzerland, his young son fell to his death from the fourth floor of the family's Paris home. This tragedy was compounded even more horribly when his other child died of an illness only a few weeks later. One can almost hear in Saint-Saens's deeply-felt music a premonition of the pain that was to come.

The CD 'Saint-Saens Volume I' was released by Cala Records, 1993 (DDD). CACD 1015.

Soprano: Tinuke Olafimihan
Contralto: Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Tenor: Anthony Roden
Bass: Simon Kirkbride

The Hertfordshire Chorus, Harlow Chorus, East London Chorus, The London Philharmonic, Conductor: Geoffrey Simon

Track List:

1.-4.: Parysatis 'Airs de Ballet' (World Premiere Recording)
5.-6.: Sarabande et Rigaudon, Op. 93 (World Premiere Recording)
7.: Tarantelle for Flute, Clarinet & Orchestra, Op. 6
8.: Marche militaire francaise from Suite algérienne, Op. 60
9.: Africa - Fantasy for Piano & Orchestra, Op.89
10.: Valse - finale from Ascanio (World Premiere Recording)

Messe de Requiem, Op. 54

11. Requiem - Kyrie (5'56")
12. Dies Irae (7'25")
13. Rex Tremendae (3'04")
14. Oro Supplex (5'10")
15. Hostias (2'33")
16. Sanctus (1'24")
17. Benedictus (1'47")
18. Agnus Dei (8'20")