Friday, February 28, 2014

Tosca, Act II (Callas - Gobbi)

Maria Callas - best Tosca ever - and Tito Gobbi - best Scarpia ever - in a superb 1964 production of Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" at Covent Garden. Here is Act II of the opera. What an acting by Callas and Gobbi!

Tosca: Maria Callas
Cavaradossi: Renato Cioni
Scarpia: Tito Gobbi

The orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Dir. Carlo Felice Cillario

Stage Director: Franco Zeffirelli


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

French avant-garde at the beginning of two centuries

By Thanassis Vavlidas

17/2/2014, Athens State Orchestra in connection with Paris (“Onassis Cultural Center” known as “Stegi Grammaton ke Technon”)

The musical avant–garde in France and, in particular, Paris at the beginning of both the 20th and the 21st century was the underlying subject of the compositions performed by the Athens State Orchestra on 17th of February. This concert inaugurated the collaboration of the Orchestra with the “Onassis Cultural Center”. At the beginning of the program, the pianist Titos Gouvelis vividly presented a brief analysis of the compositions.

The first composition, “Incompatible(s) IX for large orchestra” (dedicated to Nikos Mamangakis) was commissioned by the Orchestra and was performed for the first time worldwide. The Greek composer Nikolas Tzortzis (1978- ) studied music in France and currently lives there. The influence of Peter Eotvos’s example is obvious – the piece is also dedicated to him and to Konrad Stahl, who gave the composer the opportunity to stay at Edenkoben and write this piece. Original sound effects derive from the different position of some instruments like the clarinets in the orchestra, or from instruments consistently playing high notes. The third part, which comprehensively represents the composer’s ideas, is the most interesting one.

The second composition performed was the “Piano Concerto for the left hand” by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). The work was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887 – 1961) who was wounded during World War I and lost his right arm. Ravel was inspired by the technical challenges of the project. As the distinguished French composer stated, “In a work of this kind it is essential to give the impression of a texture no thinner than that of a part written for both hands”. Wittgenstein himself stated, “Only much later, after I’d studied the concerto for months, did I become fascinated by it and realized what a great work it was”. In 1933, Wittgenstein played the work in concert for the first time. Stefanos Thomopoulos, the concerto’s pianist at this present performance, who has also worked in France for many years, succeeded in transmitting to the audience the stylistic mixture of jazz influences and dramatic elements with excessive clarity well supported by the orchestra.

The third composition was a pleasant surprise: “Rage in the heaven city” by Raphael Cendo (1975 - ). The composer, who studied music in Paris and followed a class of computerized music at IRCAM, has developed his own theory about music: “The phenomenon of satiation in the acoustic field is an excess of material, of energy, of movements, of timbre.” The piece is written for big symphonic orchestra and is dedicated to Fausto Romitelli, an Italian composer who died prematurely. It is mainly a piece of phasmatic music where the sounds remind us of the voices coming from whales, seagulls and wild birds, much like the “Cantus arcticus” by Einojuhani Rautavaara. The conductor Vassilis Christopoulos managed to bring on the surface the virtues of the piece and tame the sounds of wind instruments, which have a significant role in the piece.

Last but not least was the composition of Igor Stravinsky, “The Firebird Suite” (1919 version). Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) wrote this piece between 1909 and 1910 for the famous Sergei Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes Company” for its 1910 Paris season performances. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse for its owner. Based on the Russian tradition and adopting the style of Rimsky–Korsakoff’s orchestration, Stravinsky managed to present a new orchestral sound with new harmonies and complicated rhythms. Athens State Orchestra’s conductor did his best to conceal some difficulties that arose during the performance. Nevertheless, we certainly felt the pleasant odor of the piece.

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rachmaninoff and Weinberg in style!

By Thanassis Vavlidas

14/12/2013, Kremer - Dirvanauskaite - Buniatishvili (Athens Concert Hall, known as Megaron Moussikis of Athens).

The concert of these three well-known and highly estimated music interpreters could be entitled “Fascinating music for piano with participation of strings”. By saying this, we by no means underestimate the contribution of strings (violin and cello). However, the role of the piano is more than essential in the pieces by Rachmaninoff and, to a similar degree, in the piece by Weinberg also.

Gidon Kremer (Riga, 1947- ) is famous for his technical brilliance and his commitment both to classical and modern compositions (violin). In 1997 he founded the “Kremerata Baltica” Orchestra and he organized many tours all over the world. Giedre Dirvanauskaite (founding member of the “Kremerata Baltica”) has recorded and performed many classical and new pieces in collaboration with G. Kremer and his Orchestra (cello). The youngest of the interpreters is K. Buniatishvili (Tiflis, 1987- ), a multi-awarded pianist, who is adding extra value to classical concerts (piano).

The concert program itself was fascinating. It included both “trio elegiaques” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) and the “piano trio opus 24” by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996) in between. The “trio elegiaque No.1” is written in the form of sonata and is completed in a single movement. Its first performance, with the composer himself in the piano, was a significant event for Rachmaninoff since it was the first time he performed out of the Conservatory. The intensity and clarity of the piano part is somehow undermining the sound balance with the strings throughout the piece. The pianist, with her rather tough touché, did not try to dull this impression but the strings succeeded in transmitting to the audience the composition’s fully emotional evolution.

The “trio elegiaque No. 2” was dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky whom the composer respected and admired. The structure of the piece is quite similar to the trio that Tchaikovsky wrote in memory of his friend, Nikolai Rubinstein. This piece received from the three interpreters a performance with an extraordinary range of expression. Their coordination led to a fine result that brought on the surface the dramatic phrases of the piano, the contrasts between the three instruments and a suppressed lamentation coming from the strings.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is less known in Greece, although he is a great Russian composer of Polish-Jewish origins, known also as Moisei Samuilovich Vaynberg. Like many of his compositions, his “piano trio opus 24” is a programmatic piece, which succeeded in condensing different music styles from medieval ages to twentieth century in a way that they seem to be integrated in a form with solid structure and alternating expressions. As far as musical style is concerned, the final elegiac diminuendo connects this composition with Rachmaninoff’s trios. The interpreters took advantage of the composition’s multistylistic possibilities, thus creating a poetic atmosphere that was interrupted by loud exclamations. Sometimes we were reminded of Shostakovich, who had collaborated on many occasions with Weinberg, but the latter’s style is unique. We want to mention here the strings’ approach that created, during the lyrical parts, an emotional upgrade without extreme passion.

Having listened to these fine musicians and having appreciated their perfect collaboration, we need not wonder why modern composers dedicate to them, and entrust them with, their compositions...

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”

Monday, December 23, 2013

From Lutoslawski to Piazzola

By Thanassis Vavlidas

18/12/2013, From Lutoslawski to Piazzola (Athens Concert Hall, known as Megaron Moussikis of Athens).

Modern music for a string quartet could be provocative and at the same time fascinating. The “Lutoslawski Quartet Wroclaw” consisting of soloists from Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (Poland) prepared a homogeneous program of high interest for their concert in Athens. Composers like Lutoslawski, Schnittke, Piazzola are well known for their formalistic and stylistic innovations, but also the new generation has considerable and challenging propositions to make. Szymon Krzeszowiec (replacing Jakub Jakowicz) – violin, Marcin Markowicz – violin, Artur Rozmyslowicz – viola and Maciej Mlodawski – cello interpreted firstly the “String Quartet” (1964) of Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994), a composition consisted of mobile elements played one after the other seeming to become sometimes aleatoric. The phrases are never completed, but their evolution comes to an end when they reach again the patterns of the violin’s monologue at the very beginning. Such a composition demands from the soloists to be very accurate and very expressive each time their turn comes to play memories from the violin’s monologue. We can certainly say that they achieved so.

The second composition was the “Quintet for piano and strings” (1972-1976) of Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). It seems to be a piece of special importance for the composer, because it reflects his feelings for his mother who died in 1972. His pain is shown with intensity, tone clusters, dissonants, repetitions in five movements. One cannot easily forget the valse based on B-A-C-H initials (the composer admired deeply J. S. Bach) or the Lullaby at the end. The interpreters managed to create a variety of feelings from sadness to deep sorrow and mourning, although sometimes they seemed to play even louder than the pianist! Erato Alakiozidou (piano) is a member of the “Idee Fixe ensemble of modern music” as well as the other soloists who played with the quartet.

At the second part, the String Quartet collaborated firstly with Zacharias Tarpagas (alto flute) in the piece “Fragmente II” of Toshio Hosokawa (1955 - ), a piece which uses modern and old techniques which reminded us of the sound of shakuhatsi leading to a limited success. Secondly they collaborated with Theophilos Sotiriadis (alto saxophone) in the piece “Xingu” of Liduino Pitombeira (1962 - ). The saxophonist had absorbed the Brazilian rhythms of the piece in a way that he supported the strings’ sound and at the same time expressed strongly the mood that each of the three parts of the piece was written in. Thirdly they collaborated with Dimitris Leontzakos (bass clarinet) in the piece “String quartet No3” of Marcin Markowicz (1979 - ) which was originally written for string quartet and it was recently transcripted for bass clarinet and string quartet. The composer who is a member of the String Quartet managed to write a grotesque piece of low profile, transparent and luminous, although the main interpreter did not seem to share exactly this style. Last piece was two pieces from “Five Tango Sensations” of Astor Piazzola (1921 – 1922) where they collaborated with Konstantinos Raptis (bandoneon). The creator of “Nuevo tango” combined here tango and jazz with nostalgic feelings whereas the “orchestration” is full of energy and dissonances. The soloists respected the composer’s style and they leaded the concert to a triumphal end, although the last piece was titled “Fear”. With musicians like the ones we listened to during this concert, we fear not for the future of music. Modern music for strings is their voice of expression and the real voice of our times.

Thanassis Vavlidas
Member of the “Union of drama and music Greek critics”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Schostakovich: Symphony No.5 (Bernstein)

Dmitri Schostakovich (1906-1975):

Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47

1. Moderato
2. Allegretto
3. Largo
4. Allegro non troppo

New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein


Monday, September 9, 2013

In the Neighborhoods of Athena (2011)

A short film shot around the Acropolis of Athens. It is a combination of photography and video, with added music (Ravel's beautiful string quartet). The music volume is kept low intentionally, to give the impression of an unseen orchestra the sound of which comes from afar...


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Parsifal: Introduction to Act 3

What was the most “chromatic” music Wagner wrote after the “Tristan” Prelude? In my opinion, it was the Prelude to Act 3 of “Parsifal” ! It may even be the finest music he ever wrote (but, of course, this is only a matter of personal taste...).

Gurnemanz: Kurt Moll
Kundry: Waltraud Meier
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Cond. James Levine