The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the winter solstice. What music best captures or celebrates winter?

December 21, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Winter Solstice.

Winter arrives at 10:28 a.m. Central Standard Time.

That means we are turning the corner. Starting today, nights will get shorter and days will get longer.

But there is still plenty of the year’s most blustery and bone-chilling weather ahead of us.

Lots of classical music celebrates winter.

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a popular choice.

So is the “Winter Dreams” symphony by Tchaikovsky.

Here are links to two compilations of winter music, lasting for a total of more than two hours, on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNMIgZAx2gQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2jAweLVLRk

But no music is more wintry than the celebrated song cycle “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey” by Franz Schubert (below).

Every year, The Ear uses the solstice and the coming of winter to listen once again to this deeply moving and surprisingly modern song cycle.

Many excellent recordings exist. Famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below left, with pianist Gerald Moore) made multiple recordings over many years.

In recent years Matthias Goerner, Thomas Quasthoff, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufmann and many others have already made acclaimed recordings, always with distinguished pianists including Gerald Moore, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Daniel Barenboim and Paul Lewis.

Yet I always find the most satisfying version to be the one made by English tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andnes.

Bostridge’s tenor voice lends a lightness that has a certain clarity and almost speech-like quality to it.

And Bostridge, who wrote the excellent book “Schubert Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession” – a song-by-song analysis of the cycle — knows the texts and contexts of the songs inside and out. His are well-informed and thoroughly thought-out interpretations.

The whole cycle takes about 70 minutes to listen to.

This year The Ear might do one of the 24 songs in the cycle each day and then the entire cycle in one sitting at the end.

The different approach might yield some new insights and new pleasure.

Anyway, choose your own artists and your own way of listening.

But it is a great and timely choice.

Here is “Good Night,” the first song of “Winterreise”:

And here is “The Organ Grinder,” the last song and a favorite of writer Samuel Beckett who found a shared sensibility in the lean austerity of the music of the music and the text:

What winter music would you listen to or recommend to mark the solstice and the coming of winter?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Let us now praise Kato Perlman and other donors and sponsors whose generosity supports classical music at the UW-Madison and elsewhere

April 7, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

In yesterday’s blog about afternoon concerts this weekend, The Ear mentioned the FREE concert by the Perlman Piano Trio this Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

The all-masterpiece program is an appealing one: The late Piano Trio in E-flat Major, K. 542, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, by Robert Schumann; and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101, by Johannes Brahms.

Members of the graduate student ensemble (below, from left, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) are: violinist Adam Dorn; pianist SeungWha Baek; and cellist Micah Cheng.

Additional members for the Schumann Piano Quintet are violinist Keisuke Yamamoto and violist Luke Carmichael Valmadrid.

Perlman Piano Trio 2016

But the concert by the Perlman Trio is also an occasion to recognize an important donor to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Her name is Kato (Katherine) Perlman. The Ear knows her as a congenial, amiable and modest person.

Perlman’s generosity has made possible this scholarship trio for distinguished graduate students. Its membership usually changes every school year.

Perlman (below), a retired chemist, has also contributed to other events and programs at the UW-Madison and to other music events around town.

Kato_Perlman

Now, Perlman is not alone. There are many important donors and patrons and underwriters of musical events in Madison.

One of the most distinguished and largest recent gifts was the late Karen Bishop, whose gift of $500,000 made possible hiring a new director of University Opera outside the punitive budget cuts by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature.

Another is Irving Shain(below), the retired chemistry professor and Chancellor of the UW-Madison, who decades ago started the ongoing Beethoven Sonata Competition and who also underwrites the wind and piano duet competition.

Irving Shain

Kato Perlman has an interesting, compelling and moving personal history, and the upcoming concert in Saturday is a good occasion to share it.

Here it is:

http://www.supportuw.org/stories/feature/perlman-gifts-span-campus/

These are challenging times for classical music. Those of us who appreciate it should be especially grateful to Perlman and other sponsors and donors for allowing it to exist for our pleasure and enlightenment.

So The Ear says:

Thank you, Kato.

Thank you, Irv.

Thank you, Karen Bishop and family.

And thank you to all donors and sponsors – individuals, groups, corporations and businesses — including those whose philanthropy supports the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and so many of the wonderful music groups in the areas.

You were never needed more.

In their honor, here in a YouTube video is a song of dedication, “Widmung,” composed by Robert Schumann and sung by baritone Thomas Quasthoff:


Classical music: Today is the Winter Solstice. So The Ear offers you Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

December 21, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight we turn the corner.

At 10:48 p.m. CST we will experience the Winter Solstice.

winter solstice image

That means that from now until late June, the days will start getting longer and the nights shorter.

True, so far we have not had much cold or snow, thanks to El Nino.

But we still have the coldest months of the season – January and February – to look forward to.

One of The Ear’s winter rituals is to listen to the song cycle “Winterreise” – winter journey – by Franz Schubert  (below) on or around the first day of winter.

Franz Schubert big

It is such a unique and astonishing work, so modern in so many ways.

And there are so many outstanding recorded versions of it that The Ear likes: Mark Padmore with pianist Paul Lewis; Matthias Goerner with Christoph Eschenbach; Thomas Quasthoff with Charles Spencer; Peter Schreier with Sviatolsav Richter; Hermann Prey and Karl Engel; and of course the legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore, Joerg Demus and later with Alfred Brendel.

More locally, he also likes the version, complete with black-and-white photographs by Katrin Talbot that was done by UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe with UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer. (It is published by the University of Wisconsin Press.)

But probably The Ear’s favorite version of the amazing cycle so far is the one done by British tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The Ear prefers the higher tenor range to the baritone range. He also likes not only Bostridge’s transparent sound and outstanding diction, but also his kind of singing speech style — Sprachstimme – that adds to the storytelling of the cycle.

The complete 70-minute cycle is available from YouTube but only by going  through the 24 different videos, one per song in the cycle.

And there is a preface that features both Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the work and about performing it.

By the way, an excellent companion to the cycle is the book and e-book that Bostridge has published –- a doctoral thesis called “Schubert’s Winter Journey” Anatomy of an Obsession” (Knopf).

It is a comprehensive look at the aesthetic, historical, cultural and the literary aspects of the astonishing work and analyzes each of the 24 songs in the cycle. The Ear has read it and highly recommends this definitive study by someone who knows the famous song cycle inside and out after performing it more than 100 times.

Here is a set-up piece with pianist Jeremy Denk interviewing Ian Bostridge about his book:

And here are Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the cycle:

And “Gute Nacht” (Good Night) here is the opening song of “Winterreise”:

And “Der Leiermann,” the closing song of “Winterreise”:

The Ear urges you to sample many more, in order or out of order.

Let The Ear and other readers know which performers you prefer and which songs in the cycle are your favorite?

 


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