Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Classical Music

Beethoven's Cadenza

Cadenza for Beethoven Violin Concerto 

 

I collected another version of Beethoven Violin Concerto: a 2006 recording, with Isabelle Faust as the soloist, Jiri Belohlavek conducting The Prague Philharmonia. The performer, conductor and orchestra are not familiar to me, but the recording label harmonia mundi is no stranger to me. Harmonia mundi has good recording quality and this recording is no exception.

 

Every time when I am getting a Beethoven Violin Concerto I will be looking at the cadenza used over and above the soloist and the orchestra. The CD booklet of this recording does not indicate the version of the cadenza used. After listening to the recording I realised that the not common Beethoven version of the cadenza was used.

 

Beethoven completed his violin concerto op61 in 1806. He then later transcribed a piano version of it, the op 61a. He wrote 4 cadenzas for the piano version of the concerto. The first cadenza is a long and elaborate one at the end of the first movement involving timpani in a high key manner; the second cadenza links the second movement to the third movement; the third one at the exposition portion of the third movement; and the final cadenza just before the end of the third movement.

 

Interesting enough Beethoven did not write any cadenzas for the violin version of the concerto. Personally I much prefer the version by Kreisler. I find this version blends nicely with the original themes and yet allows the violinist to show off technical skills. Nevertheless, to use a cadenza written by the original composer is definitely meaningful in a way. This Isabelle recording again rekindles my interest in Beethoven’s cadenza. I have 3 other version of recordings using the Beethoven version of the cadenza or slight variation of the cadenza.

 

First recording is by tnc Recordings. The label and the performers are all not familiar to me. This is the only CD set that provides recordings for both the op61 and the op61a, both using cadenza by Beethoven. The performance and the recording are of good standard.

 

Second recording is by Deutsche Grammophon. Soloist is Wolfgang Schneiderhan, supported by Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Eugen Jochum. Schneiderhan transcribed the piano version of the cadenza for the violin concerto.

 

Another recording is by Teldec. Gidon Kremer being the soloist, supported by The Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The cadenza was transcribed by Kremer. Kremer not only used timpani, he also included a portion played by a piano at the back stage.

 

Isabelle, Schneiderhan and Kremer all transcribed the four cadenzas by Beethoven for the violin concerto. For tnc recording, the Cadenza was transcribed by L. Bulatow and only 3 of the 4 cadenza were used. For the tnc recording, Oleh Krysa is the violin soloist, and Mykola Suk is the Piano soloist. The orchestra is Kiev Camerata conducted by Virko Baley. The piano version of the concerto essentially is the direct transcription of the violin version, with the right hand playing the lead violin part and the left hand playing low key and straight forward accompaniment. There are also people who based on the piano version of the concerto deduce that the tempo of the violin concerto should be in a rather fast pace (like the interpretation by Heifetz), otherwise too slow a tempo would make the piano part in the first movement too trivial.

 

For those who are keen on Beethoven’s own cadenza for his great violin concerto, these few recordings should not disappoint you.

 

The great Beethoven violin concerto

Chinese Version

 

 

Heifetz in Performance

Heifetz in Performance  

 

 

I remember very long ago when I was young I watched this particular programme about Heifetz in performance on TV. The filming of the performance of Heifetz impressed me very much, and especially so the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch featured at the beginning and the end of the TV programme. Later the programme was made available on video tape. But in view of the poor quality and reliability of the video tape I did not buy one. Luckily now the programme was made available in DVD format and I managed to get one, released by RCA, serial number Red Seal 82876-63885-9.  The  video is in black and white and the sound is in mono mode.

Every time I watch the DVD, Heifetz has never failed to make me feel impressed and touched. The only thing not ideal is the picture quality of the DVD. As the source is probably old and not in high resolution format, I believe nothing much can be done.

 

     

 

The poor quality of the DVD cannot suppress the sparks and fires of Heifetz’s performances. Heifetz’s technical skill is almost magical. His bow seemed part of his body, and he played the semi-quavers and the very difficult passages so effortlessly. When you are looking at his video on his performances, he is always so cool and so relax. Effortless is probably the only word to describe him and his performances.  

Heifetz is not like many contemporary violinists, where most of them go for technically perfect presentation and with every note carefully ornamented. Heifetz, however, had always been straight forward and clean in his interpretation without adding too much unnecessary flavours into a musical piece. Yet to me his interpretation is charming and is able to win a listener over. 

Maybe some will find his interpretation too technical, but I view otherwise. His coolness in performing maybe deceiving, especially so if you are watching. But if you were to listen to Heifetz’s music without looking at him performing you should realise that his interpretation is also full of feelings and warmth. I do agree some of his interpretations, like the Beethoven violin concerto, is just too fast for some to find it acceptable. But his choice of tempo in pieces like Sibelius violin concerto and Scottish Fantasy was certainly not very fast. So I believe he played fast for a reason rather than just for the sake of going fast. But I have to agree that in general his tempo is fast, and is still well within his capability.

 

    

 

This DVD includes a few of his performances:  a live concert of him performing short violin pieces, a recording session of Bach, and a live performance of Scottish Fantasy with Orchestra National de France, conducted by Heifetz himself.  

Something about the Scottish Fantasy, the key programme of this DVD. The music was composed by Max Bruch in 1980. He freed himself from the traditional form of violin concerto and created this violin fantasy in four movements, full of Scottish flavour. The harp is heard throughout the concerto, humbly supporting the Scottish themes. The music begins in a serious mood. The second movement starts to move and fills with vigour, and continuously run into the romantic third movement. The violin and the music returns to they vigour in the last movement. In this concerto the violin parts in the faster sections are like acrobats, full of excitement for the soloist, and to the audience as well.

At the end of the DVD, the ending passage of the Scottish Fantasy is featured again. The solo violin completed a slow but full of feeling phrase. After that there was a small pause of complete silence. Then we saw Heifetz’s bow went up and then down with a phrase of running notes, followed by the last statement played firmly and triumph together with the orchestra.  

When done, it was the loud applause of the audience, and my tears as I am really touched!

 

 

 

 

Chinese Version

The Performers/Conductors I Miss

 

When one of the older generation performers/conductors passed away, I would feel losing yet another good old friend in music. Recently I am back to photography again and have not been buying many CDs lately. I am not very familiar with the current younger generation of performers and conductors. Somehow I find the older generation of the performers are more matured and have definite character in their interpretation of music. Maybe technically the younger generation of the performers are almost flawless, but technical skill is only a tool to present a musical piece. Sheer showmanship is not adequate to present music in great depth and with deep feelings.  

 

Looking back at those great musicians that had passed away, I believe most people will be familiar with the great conductor Karajan. Luckily Karajan was very keen in recording and video. Therefore many of his great performances are available for us to admire and appreciate. You can hardly miss his collections of Beethoven Symphonies.  

 

   

Another favourite conductor of mine is Carlos Kleiber. Opposite of Karajan, he had very handful recordings available. Under his baton the orchestra always seemed so energetic and lively. A recent DVD of his revealed his charm as a conductor.  

 

 

Violist Christian Ferras was yet another great violinist who passed away rather young. Also a fussy musician, his recordings were also very limited. I have CDs of his recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius violin concertos. His interpretation was refined. According to music, Ferras style could be gentle, he could also play with great dynamics.  

 
Jasha Heifetz had always been my idol as a violinist. No matter how difficult a musical piece was, he played them so effortlessly. Heifetz had amazing technical skill, but he played in a clean and elegant way and not being too flowery.   Cello is not a common solo instrument. Great cellists were not many. I remembered my first encounter with Jacqueline du Pre. I was so surprise that a soloist could perform a music with such great dynamic, more so for a lady. She was like always pushing her cello to the limit of the instrument. Maybe there are elements of showmanship, but definitely very touching.

 

  

Looking back at Chinese classical music, after so many years, other than the great Chinese conductor Peng Xiu Wen, I had not been impressed by any of the current conductors.  

There are far more great musicians that had left us. Those familiar to me were Mstislav Rostropovich, David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern, Sviatoslav Richer and Wilhelm Kempff. I will miss them. But I do hope I am able to spend more time to catch up with the contemporary performers and hope that one day I will also enjoy their music and performances.

 

  

 

 

Chinese Version

Kleiber: Beethoven 6th Symphony

Beethoven Symphony No. 6

Bayerisches Staatsorchester

Carlos Kleiber

 

I was lucky enough to bump into this CD recording of Kleiber's Beethoven 6th. It was a live recording done on 7 Nov in the year 1983. Kleiber only performed the Beethoven 6th once in his life and this live performance was the one. Normally Kleiber’s live recordings were done with a master tape. However for this particular performance the master tape was badly damage. Lucky enough for us, there was a copy recorded on a cassette tape in much better condition, originally recorded for his son.  


Recording engineer Christoph Stickel successfully produced the CD based on the cassette tape. However, what he could do best was to reproduce the true atmosphere as accurately as possible. If you are expecting a good stereo recording then you can just ignore this CD. The sound stage was very narrow, so much so that the woodwinds and brass instruments were all come to the front as if they were side by side with the strings. The only good thing was you could hear individual instrument very clearly, though not naturally in a 3 dimensional space.  


In this performance Kleiber adhered closely to the original tempo markings in the score, which was very much faster than what other conductors would performed at that era. Many experts had varied opinions regarding the metro markings of the original Beethoven’s scores.

 

I myself have a few other recordings, which include:  

Karajan and Berliner Phiharmoniker, 1963 recording.

Solti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Abbado and Berliner Phiharmoniker, recent Jonathan Del Mar recording.  

 

 

 

According to the CD booklet of Abbado’s recording, Del Mar did not seek to establish certainties on the basis of static, rigid conception of philology. Rather, he placed at the conductor’s disposal the original material, brought together according to rigorous criteria, and leaves the task of interpreting these material to individual’s personal fantasy and sensibility. What he offered in his new edition of Beethoven Symphony was a synthesis of all the available manuscripts and editions that he had compared. Individual conductor will interpret the scores accordingly after studying the details given by him. The conductors can then make informed choices between a series of documented and plausible possibilities.  

 

To me, the Kleiber’s 6th was youthful and energetic. Karajan’s version also adopted a fast tempo but was as usual elegant typical of Karajan. Solti used the slowest tempo, like a relax morning stroll in the countryside. Abbado’s interpretation was very detailed, and the recording effect was also the best with very sweetly recorded Berlin’s Woodwinds.  


This CD recorded the 4 minutes of applause after the performance. But strangely the audience did not applause immediately after the last chord. Just wondering whether the audience were too engrossed in the music presented in a very fresh tempo at that point of time or for whatever reasons, only when Carlos Kleiber brought the orchestra to their feet a few moments later did jubilant applause break loose.  


20 years later, are you able to feel the same?

 

 

Chinese Version

The Musical Joke

 

Mozart K. 522 ‘A Musical Joke’

         

Mozart had composed numerous Serenades. This particular one K. 522 in F major was funny and interesting. Mozart was writing this Serenade in F major for the audiences of the late 18th century. However, what they found amusing may need some explaining to the 20th century ears. Some of the jokes are obvious whereas others are subtle and can be obvious to the trained musicians.

 
In the first movement Allegro, our village composer calls the orchestra together with three unison chords. But soon very disappointing is the composer seems running out of ideas. The rest of the movement just revolves around these three chords. Now and then there are meaningless triplets, viola trios and ending where the French horns are late by a bar to the rest of the orchestra.  

 
Second movement is to be played majestically as if a dance music for a grand occasion. Everything goes on well, until a passage where the poor French Horns go out of tune and make a frightful mess of things. After that again the composer runs out of new ideas and you will just get strings wondering with ascending and descending scales. Finally all have to be repeated but our dear horns create the same mess.  

 
In the third movement, our village composer finally surprised the audience by giving us a very beautiful and lyrical Adagio Cantabile. Without much surprise, the orchestra managed to bring the movement to the ending, where there would be a violin candaza. As usual the solo violin would like to show off his technique by starting quietly, getting faster, indulging in a few double-stops and running notes. Sure enough our deal violinist accomplished all of these, but only in the end he went out of tune at the high notes, and one of his string snapped at the most critical moment! Leaving with 3 strings, the red-faced soloist and the orchestra just had to draw a curtain over the disastrous episode.

 
The last movement was  a happy and joyful Presto. Things again started off smoothly, although the strings seemed to have some difficulty keeping to the key. Then the dear composer was trying to execute a fugue, only to end up a lame, square and jerky musical phrase that was played one followed by another instrument. After that the French Horns executed a very long trill that had not much meaning. You know for a French horn to execute a long duration trill is quite a tedious task, not to mention French horns at Mozart’s time! After that, again our composer ran out of ideas and the movement ran again into running notes and scales and meaningless notes. Finally the horns covered themselves with glory with a well-performed passage, but only to lead the music to the end with 3 cords that were not in harmony!   Listeners without much musical background may not be able to fully catch the jokes in this serenade. But those with some knowledge in music composition will definitely have a good laugh while listening to the movements.

 

I first listened to ‘The Musical Joke’ back in schooling days. There were these values for money ‘The Great Composers’ series of cassette/LP with book that were available at the bookstores. These series covered a very good selection of classical music from Baroque to modern era, and many important opera works. With every music selected there was a book with detailed description of the music and some historical background, and you got a choice of either cassette or LP with a performance of that music. The first releases of ‘The Great Composer’ were really good as the performance was recorded by reputable conductor and orchestra. The second release, now with CD instead of the choice of cassette/LP, the same work was performed by mostly Eastern bloc orchestra. While these orchestra still give a fair performance, I missed the sparks you will get from the more reputable ones.

 
This recording of ‘The Musical Jokes’ by Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields chamber ensemble I believe is not common in the market, as ‘The Musical Joke’is unlikely a popular repertoire. Also recorded in this CD are ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ and ‘Divertimento in D’. Different from many other recordings of Mozart Serenades, these recordings used small ensemble and few instruments, like one first violin, one second violin, one viola, one cello and one double bass. Instrumentation is lean. In ‘The Musical Joke’ we have two violins, one viola, one double bass and two horns. The musical effect is quite different when these pieces are performed by small ensemble and larger scale orchestra. A lean instrumentation sounds more lively, and the sound is clean as every part there is only 1 or 2 instruments. Especially for violins you get to hear very clearly the trios and ornaments.    

 
For those who will be interested to try Mozart’s humour, this is probably a good recording to try out. Maybe you will be laughing out loudly like I did.  : )

 

 

Chinese Version

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