The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


Classical music education: Concerto contest winners perform at the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras winter concerts this Saturday

March 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

WYSO will hold its second concert series of the year with the Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts on this Saturday, March 18.

Nearly 500 young musicians will display their great talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers. (See below for times and programs. And listen to WYSO members talk about WYSO in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert series will feature all five orchestras including the debut performance of WYSO’s newest string orchestra, Opus One.

Under the direction of Geri Hamilton, Opus One consists of string players ages 8 to 12. This ensemble focuses more on technique than on performance, incorporating instruction on fundamentals of scales, shifting and bowing, in addition to formative ensemble skills experience.

The Youth Orchestra concert will also feature two of the winners from the Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition: Violinist, Mary Deck and Percussionist, Adam Goren.

Mary Deck (below), age 16, is a junior at Madison West High School, and has been a part of WYSO since 2011. She will be performing the first movement of the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 31, by Henri Vieuxtemps.

Adam Goren (below), age 18, is a senior at Middleton High School and has been a part of WYSO since 2013. He will be performing the third movement of Concertino for Marimba by Paul Creston.

The Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW-Madison George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

For more information about WYSO, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Manufacturing Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., a charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Generous funding was also provided from the American Girl’s Fund for Children. This project is also funded in part by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

SCHEDULE AND PROGRAMS

Opus One and Sinfonietta – 11:30 a.m.

Sinfonietta (below)

Longfield (b.1947), Black Diamond

Smetana (1824-1884), Themes from The Moldau, arr. Frost

Mosier, Kirt N., American Reel

Traditional Irish, The Salley Gardens

Richard Stephan (b. 1929), Variations On A Well-Know Sea Chantey,

Grundman  (1934-1996), Kentucky 1800

Leyden (1917-2014), Serenade for String Orchestra: Prelude, Fugue, Nocturne, Cakewalk

Dvorak (1841-1904), Themes From The New World Symphony arr. Gruselle

Opus One

Richard Meyer (b.1957), Night Shift

Follow the Drinking Gourd – African-American Folk Song arr. Carrie Lane Gruselle

Ewazen (b.1951), Four Royal Dances: The Lord

Brian Balmages (b.1975), A Beethoven Lullaby

For the Star of County Down –

Richard Meyer (b.1957) Dragonhunter

Concert Orchestra and Harp Ensemble (below top)  – 1:30 p.m.

Concert Orchestra (below bottom)

Gounod (1818-1893), Funeral March of a Marionette ed. Rosenhaus

Holst (1874-1934) Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from The Planets arr. Leidig

M.L. Daniels (b. 1931) Contending

Tres Danzas de Mexico setting by Rhoads (b. 1918): El Pitayero (from Jalisco); El Café (Province unknown); El Curripiti (from Veracruz)

Montgomery (1771-1854), Angels, From the Realms of Glory, setting Robert W. Smith

Philharmonia Orchestra (below) – 4 p.m.

Wagner (1813-1883), Procession to the Cathedral, from the Opera “Lohengrin” arr. Kennedy

Grieg (1843-1907), Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1, Op. 46: Morning; Ase’s Death; Anitra’s Dance; In the Hall of the Mountain King

Weber (1786-1826), Tourandot, J.75: Overture and March

Hindemith (1895-1963), Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber: Fourth movement – March

Youth Orchestra (below) – 7 p.m.

Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) Concerto for Violin No 4 D minor, Op.31, first movement. Mary Deck, violin soloist

Creston (1906-1985) Concertino for Marimba, third movement. Adam Goren, marimba soloist

Prokofiev (1891-1953) Symphony No 7, op.131, C-sharp minor: Moderato, Allegretto, Andante espressivo, Vivace

Glinka (1804-1857) “Russlan and Ludmilla” Overture


Classical music: Wikipedia and WFMT in Chicago offer reviews of classical music in 2016 that include important performances, new music and deaths

January 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is there a better way to greet the New Year than to take a look back at the past year?

2016 was a year of big losses: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below top), conductor Sir Neville Marriner (below middle) and early music pioneer and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below bottom) among the many whose names you might recognize.

Pierre Boulez obit portrait

nevlle-marriner-old

Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting

What better way to start 2017 than to recall the figures we lost and hope that the coming year is kinder.

Here is a list from WFMT, the famed classical radio station in Chicago. It includes pictures and quotes along with dates:

http://www.wfmt.com/2016/12/29/in-their-own-words-inspiring-quotes-by-classical-musicians-we-loved-and-lost-in-2016/

And here is an entry from, of all places, Wikipedia that includes an exhaustive and detailed list of important events, performances and compositions as well as of classical musicians who died.

It seems as good a summing up as any that The Ear has seen, and demonstrates just how prolific the composers of new classical music are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_in_classical_music

We remember and we revere.

Which is why The Ear has included the Funeral March movement from the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven on a YouTube video below that features an intriguing graphic arts representation of the music.

We are lucky: We have the music even when we no longer have the musicians.


Classical music: Let us now praise flutist Robin Fellows, who has died. He played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s all-French program with cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio.

November 22, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to hear the acclaimed all-French program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with guest cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio. Here are links to two very positive reviews.

Here is the review written by critic John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/madison-symphony-orchestra-november-waltz/

And here is the review written by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times and the The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/concert-review-madison-symphony-pushes-itself-with-its-all-french/article_1480b329-d313-5afb-9460-e54f40a0596d.html

And here is a link to an interview with more about the concert, the program and the soloist:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/classical-music-cellist-sara-sant-ambrigio-talks-about-the-human-quality-of-french-music-she-performs-saint-saens-cello-concerto-no-1-on-an-all-french-program-with-the-madison-symphony-orc/

By Jacob Stockinger

This news is old and dated, and it comes late, too late for you to attend the memorial service. The Ear apologizes for his tardiness.

But the past several weeks have been very busy with concerts, and therefore with previews and reviews. Plus, he didn’t hear about the news until later.

Putting excuses aside, The Ear wants to take a moment to recognize the passing of an extraordinary talent many of us heard in performance and deeply appreciated.

Flutist Robin Fellows (below) has died of cancer at 66. For many years, he was principal flute with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He was also a longtime music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

robin fellows with flute

And he performed his share of other dates, such as playing with the Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by John W. Barker)

robin fellows plays with ancora string quartet cr john w barker

Here is a link to his obituary:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/in-memoriam-robin-fellows

Robin Fellows copy

In his memory, here — in a YouTube video at the bottom featuring flutist Emmanuel Pahud and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic — is a favorite work of The Ear with a major flute part: the Sarabande by French composer Gabriel Faure.

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/in-memoriam-robin-fellows

Please feel free to leave your personal memories and recollections in the COMMENT section for others and the family to see.


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