Saturday, November 06, 2004

CLARA HASKIL- SCHUMANN

Clara Haskil (1895-1960)
Romanian pianist, Clara Haskil was born in Bucharest and lost her father at the age of four. Clara studied at the Bucharest Conservatory, and at age 12, at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1910, at age 15, she was awarded primier prix, playing before a jury consisting of Faurè, Moszkowski, Raoul Pugno, and Ricardo Viñes. Clara made her Wignore Hall début in 1951 and gave a series of recitals for the BBC. In 1957, she was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in belated recognition of the expressiveness of her playing. Although her career as a performer was very successful, Clara was tormented by self-doubt and dissatisfaction throughout her life. Clara Haskil- Schumann was recorded in 1951-1955.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Robert Schumann was born June 8, 1810 in Zwickau, Saxony. Even though his father was encouraged him to pursue his music, Robert's mother sent him to study law at Leipzig. But when it was obvious that he had no gift or desire for law and was only happy only making music, she agreed to let him train as a concert pianist. Thus, in 1828, at age 18, Robert began to study with Friedrich Wieck in Leipzig, where he met Wieck’s 9 year old daughter Clara, who was a marvelous pianist. In 1837, Robert and Clara decided to get married, but Clara’s father refused to let them. However, they got married regardless. Robert’s composing began in 1828, when he moved to Heidelberg. In 1854, Robert lived in a private asylum in Endenich until his death in July of 1856.

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Robert composed Piano Concerto in A minor in 1941, late in his life. The third and fourth movements weren’t written until four years after the first two, when the deterioration of his physical and mental condition were predominant. Although Clara was the soloist whenever the piano concerto was performed, she confessed later that she did not like it.

Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Also referred to as “Scenes of Childhood”, Kinderszenen consists of 13 small pieces which were written in a period where Clara and Robert were apart. In a letter written to Clara, Robert writes: “you will enjoy them- though you will have to forget that you are a virtuoso”. The pieces in Kinderszenen are addressed to adults and are “reminiscences of a grown-up for grown-ups”, stated Robert. Kinderszenen was published in 1839 and has no dedication.

Waldszenen, Op. 82
Waldszenen, written in 1949 consists of 9 pieces for piano. Fighting in Dresden on May 3, 1849 forced Clara, who was pregnant at the time, and Robert out of their home. Waldszenen was finished before their banishment.

Variations on the Name ABEGG, Op. 1
Written in Heidelberg in 1830, the “Abeg” Variations and the Papillons were Robert’s first published piano pieces. The title, “Abeg” is significant in two ways. “Abeg” is the name of a family in Mannheim, which Schumann had known. The title also spells out a sequence of notes, which in a waltz tempo, create the theme in which the variations are based.

Works Cited
Daverio, John. “Robert Schumann”. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Ed. Stanley Sadie. 2nd ed. Vol. 22. New York: Macmillan, 2001.

Morrison, Bryce. “Clara Haskil”. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Ed. Stanley Sadie. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. New York: Macmillan, 2001.

Taylor, Ronald. Robert Schumann: His Life and Work. Granada Publishing Limited,
1982.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

GREAT ACTING....disapointing singing

A critical review of the Met's 1982 Production of La Boheme

As a young classical singer I desire to learn as much as I can about Opera and the art of singing. One of the best ways of doing this is by listening and watching the great opera singers. Viewing the Metropolitan's 1982 Production of La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini on DVD is a great opportunity to increase a young singer's knowledge of the opera world. This video teaches a great amount about action on the opera stage as well as classic opera sets and costumes; however this video should not serve as a young singers guide for good vocal technique.
Act I begins in a rundown Parisian apartment. The set is beautiful. The group of Bohemians living there get their land-lord drunk in order to escape paying the rent. I felt that the Bohemians were a little too clean cut to appear as authentic impoverished Bohemians. Rodolfo (Jose Carreras) stays behind to work on his writing while his friends go out to celebrate Christmas Eve. Rodolfo hears a knock on the door and opens it to find Mimi (Teresa Stratas), a beautiful creature who asks if she can have a light for her candle. Rodolfo introduces himself with the aria "Che gelida manina." I was shocked to hear that Carreras had this aria transposed down a half step so it would be easier to sing. Even with the transposition he struggled on the high notes. Mimi then sings "Mi chimano Mimi." I was disappointed with Stratas' high notes as well, however she had some wonderful dynamics throughout. The Act ends with the duet between Mimi and Rodolfo "O soave fanciulla." Once again both singers' high notes were disappointing. Although they both lacked the vocal splendor I was hoping for, their acting was convincing and touching. I was truly convinced that Rodolfo was in love with Mimi and Mimi's frailty was almost frightening at times. However, I did feel that Stratas' desire to create a realistic deathly Mimi occasionally hindered her singing.
The huge ensemble cast filling the stage during Act II creates great excitement. Act II is set on the streets of Paris. The Bohemians are at a sidewalk cafe when Marcello's (Richard Stilwell) ex-girlfriend Musetta (Renata Scotto) shows up with her new sugar-daddy. Scotto's high notes in "Quando men vo," like many others in the cast, are a little too screechy and tight for my tastes, but Scotto's stage presence was wonderful. She portrays the attention craving Musetta with extreme ease. I got chills at the end of "Quando men vo" when the whole cast was singing. Overall, Act II was full of opulence, including a live horse walking across the stage. Puccini marvelously crafted together the street scene; he blended together the sounds of children chasing the toy vendor, Mimi and Rodolfo falling even more in love, Marcello and Musetta flirting , a military parade and the sounds of Parisians on the streets to create an extremely exhilarating second Act.
In contrast to the grandeur and colorfulness of the previous, Act III is haunting and subdued. Act III is set at a toll-gate on the edge of Paris. The audience discovers that Rodolfo has left Mimi partly due to his jealousy but mainly due to Mimi's deteriorating health. As the snow fell upon the increasingly frail Mimi, I felt that Stratas started to truly emerge as a singer. Her voice seemed to free and warm up. I really started to empathize with her character. Rodolfo and Mimi's duet "Dunque è proprio finita!" was both beautiful and heart-wrenching simultaneously. Act III is when the audience learns that Mimi is doomed. Marcello doesn't want to watch Mimi die, but they decide to try to stay together until spring. When Marcello and Musetta join in at the end of the Act, it shows a powerful contrast between the two couples.
By Act IV both Rodolfo and Marcello have lost their girlfriends. The Act opens in their apartment with both talking of their exs. The rest of their Bohemian buddies show up and they have a grand ole time dancing and joking around. Suddenly the mood changes when Musetta comes, helping along a dying Mimi. Knowing that she is about to die, Mimi requests to be taken to see Rodolfo. The slow pulsing chords in "Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire " echo a death march and thus foreshadows the tragic ending of the opera. Mimi and Rodolfo's last duet revisits many of the opera's earlier highlights. When Rodolfo realizes that Mimi has died he sings two haunting "Mimi's" and collapses on top of her. The ending scene always manages to make me cry.
Overall this is a great visual performance of La Boheme. The sets throughout are breath-taking and the director Kirk Browning did an amazing job with close-ups. Also, all of the singers are great actors. I would definitely recommend this DVD for anyone that would like to see the way Opera should look. However if wanting to hear wonderful singing, I'd tell you to look else where. For a great CD recording I recommend the Berlin Orchestra's recording with Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Freni as Mimi.


Barbara Pare & John Clodfelter..

Voice Recital
Barbara Pare
Soprano
&
John Clodfelter
Piano

This recital had many shining moments and was very well done by both performers. The audience showed their appreciation by a standing ovation after Pare and Clodfelter walked off stage and back on for a second applause.
As the first song started, Pare kept her character from the very start to the very end of the piece (Giulio Cesare – Handel). Clodfelter’s piano playing was practically flawless throughout the entire concert. The piano really helped set the mood of the first song with great contrasting dynamics. Her acting really made the performance more enjoyable too. I noticed right from the beginning of this song that she felt very comfortable on stage, and had lots of experience. Throughout the whole performance you could see the preparation going on in her mind before the music even began for each song. The first song was very pretty and she had great diction and pronunciation throughout it. Also, at the middle or end of the song, both the piano and voice had a great contrast of mood, dynamics, and intensity. There was great intensity by both of them. It was really nice and noticeable that their outfits matched.
One thing that I did notice was that their bows at the beginning and end were not together. Before one song, Clodfelter bowed before Pare was even set on stage. I also noticed during a few of the songs, that Clodfelter was singing to himself. He was saying the words to himself and you could tell if you watched his mouth. Another thing I found distracting was when she would use music for certain songs. I felt like she wasn’t acting out the songs near as much when she used music. When the music wasn’t there I really enjoyed her acting along with the singing. Her voice was beautiful, and I could have listened to her for another hour or longer! Jon Clodfelter’s piano playing was incredible. They really worked/performed very well together. They both had very good control through all of the pieces.
In the second act, I noticed again that using the music was distracting. She would look out to the audience and you would really feel the music, and then it would be gone when she would look away and back down at the music. During the 3rd song (Bunte Lieder, Op.2 – Szymanowski), together they were perfect on the breaks/rests and all of her jumps from high to low notes were very smooth and well done. Also, at the end of the song there was a great fade to nothing at the end, which was very musical and pleasant. In the next song, the music was gone, and she was in character throughout the entire piece. It was incredible to listen to her, and I really noticed her big voice in this piece. The next two pieces really showed how amazing both of their technique is. Also, you could really understand the words throughout the next piece.
The last piece of the performance(The Pocketbook – Cipullo) was really enjoyable, and from the reactions was many people’s favorite. Both performers did a great job of controlling the piece, and not letting it get to crazy. It was very funny to see, and when Clodfelter sang out in the middle of the piece the audience was hysterical! They were both very confident with the piece and I really enjoyed them interacting with each other throughout the piece. Overall, this was a great performance and I really enjoyed seeing/hearing it. It was very worth my time and a pleasure to be there!

The Guarneri String Quartet: "Has No Superior on the World's Stages" -The New York Times

You know it is going to be a good concert if the first violin walks out with a polka dot tie. Just when you think life can’t get any better than trendy polka dot ties, a concert like this follows. The Miami Herald pretty much summed up all of my thoughts when they said, “Some things, like the Guarneri, are as good as it gets.” It is quite obvious that they have been together for quite sometime, for they are almost able to communicate solely through their music. At times, a reassuring gesture or glance could be caught, but it was as if they knew every next move of the other three.

Looking at their remarkable bios, all four members have studied with professors of the Curtis Institute of Music, arguably the most prestigious music school in the country. In addition to their successful careers with the Guarneri String Quartet, the members’ bios boast of performances with the highly regarded Beaux Arts Trio, professorships at top conservatories, and soloists with countless major orchestras around the world. At the end of a few of the musicians’ bios, he state the make of the instrument he plays, almost as if it is just as vital a part of his music-making as his education or previous experiences.

They started off their anything but “Bb” performance with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 22 in B-flat (no pun intended). The piece, written in a time of financial difficulty for Mozart in 1789, gave him a small amount of much needed money through a commission by the king of Prussia. The king, Frederick William, was himself a cellist and probably was the reason that Mozart placed an unusal amount of emphasis on this instrument that is all too often just used as a bass voice in the quartet setting. Within a couple minutes of the start of the piece, the cello’s prominence is first seen in a violin and cello duet followed by a relatively extensive solo.

A skip ahead of one hundred and fifty years in music, Richard Danielpour’s String Quartet No.5, which was made possible in part by a co-commission by DePauw, provided the much-needed contrast from the Mozart. Possibly the most exceptional part of the performance of this piece was the almost intuitive sense of balance that these musicians produce in their quartet while maintaining a healthy, full sound. In a piece that could easily become chaotic and nothing but rhythmic motifs, they definitely mastered the art of finding the melodic interest in the piece. The soloist was never covered despite the often technically difficult accompaniments as they seamlessly passed the melody between themselves.

Despite the seemingly endless intermission that pushed twenty minutes during which I had way too much time to visit the restroom…twice, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major was definitely worth the wait. If you made a list of the all that was absolutely brilliant about Ravel’s writing – the sweet, yet heart-wrenching harmonies, the melodies that seem to simply float above the accompaniments, the countermelodies that often rightfully so supersede the melodic line in interest, Ravel’s instinctual awareness of the balance between the instruments, his understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each instrument – it was all wrapped up in this one, four movement piece. Granted I would have enjoyed this piece had it been played by a middle school group, however, the quartet’s musicianship and execution made this an absolute delight to listen to. It was the highlight of my night. You know it was a good concert when you come out giddy and with an inextinguishable urge to practice.

Besides the intermission that lasted looked as if it would last longer than the entire second half of the concert, I didn’t have too many complaints. I think that Thompson Recital Hall would have acoustically served this small ensemble better than Kresge Auditorium. At some points, their sounds seemed to get lost in the large room and it just didn’t have the resonance that Thompson would have more readily provided for them. Visually, you could tell that the amount of sound they were putting out just didn’t match the smaller sound that was heard out in the audience. I think that the occasional lack of full sound, especially in the top violin voice, and the occasional intonation problem was partly due to this hinderance. Although the ensemble would have been better suited in Thompson, I understand the number of people wishing to attend forced them hold the concert in Kresge.

Quarneri Quartet, a musical feast

The Guarneri string quartet is a world famous performing string group. They are made up of violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley; violist Michael Tree, and cellist Peter Wiley. The chose to perform three contrasting quartets: a classical Mozart quartet, a late Romantic Ravel quartet, and a contemporary Danielpour quartet.
The Mozart quartet was surprisingly the weakest piece in the entire program. There were several moments where intonation was questionable, and I felt that the ensemble was not as together as they could have been for this piece. At times the balance seemed a little off as well. However, the tonal quality of all players was still excellent for this piece, and as the quartet progressed the musicians recovered nicely from their questionable moments. Especially good was the final movement of this quartet. The players seemed to really find themselves by this moment. My favorite parts of this quartet were the cello moments. In my opinion he was the man of the hour or at least the man of this quartet. His tonal production was fabulous, however, even during his solo moments, he never overpowered the rest of the quartet. There are always dangers when performing something as familiar as a Mozart piece. Mozart leaves the performer naked to the audience in many respects because of the simple elegance of his composition style. Perhaps the flaws of this performance would not have been apparent if the composer had been a less familiar one.
The next piece on the program was a contemporary quartet by Richard Danielpour. This quartet was the strongest for the Guarneri quartet. The ensemble felt far more together than during the Mozart quartet. The balance of the parts was fantastic, and the overall intonation lacked the glitches apparent in the first quartet. I felt that the first violinist really stole the show during this piece. His pianissimo highs were absolutely ravishing! His control was flawless. The ensemble as a whole exhibited fantastic contrast during this piece both dynamically and musically. The piece itself had very atonal moments all the way to some moments that were reminiscently romantic or classical. In conclusion I felt that the quartet itself connected better to this piece than they did to the Mozart quartet.
The final piece on the program was a Ravel quartet. This piece bridged the gap between the ultra modern Danielpour piece and the very classical Mozart quartet. This piece really drew in the audience more than the other two perhaps because it had the best elements of both quartets. The problem with the Danielpour quartet was the atonality that doesn’t always sit easily with audiences since it makes it harder to detect the overall direction in which a piece is moving. The problem with the Mozart concerto was its austere simplicity. The Ravel quartet combined the beautiful melodic moments with fire and passion seen in the Danielpour quartet. This combination made for an absolute show stopper. I felt that the playing while fabulous wasn’t quite as good as it was during the Danielpour quartet. Again there were the same balance problems. At times it was very difficult to hear the inner parts. However, all things considered, this piece was a dynamite performance for the quartet.
The Quarneri quartet is not overrated in any way. Their musical expression was fabulous. Their overall togetherness, though shaky at times, was quite good. I especially enjoyed the vastly contrasting repertoire of this performance. The pieces themselves really showed off the full dynamic and tonal ranges of the quartet.