Lifetime Achievement: Christa Ludwig
Mezzo-sopranos rarely make waves as sopranos or tenors do. It's not in their nature. "I am a woman of the middle" Christa Ludwig once observed. "What Eastern people call centred. Not extreme, either in my voice or my wishes, but happy with my lot." And if that sounds a touch conservative don't be misled. As Ludwig's shrewd, gossipy, technically insightful and intellectually robust memoir In My Own Voice (Limelight Editions: 1999) vividly reveals, hers is a life in which the lamb has happily cohabited with the lion during nine remarkable decades.
None us can determine when we are born or what the fates have in store. When a fireball engulfed the small German town of Giessen in December 1944, the escaping Ludwig family must have wondered whether they were cursed or blessed. Yet the 16-year-old Christa was already blessed with a special talent. What's more, both parents were singers who had forged careers and made mistakes from which their daughter would learn.
Her mother Eugenie Besalla was a gifted mezzo with a strong soprano register. Unfortunately, in Aachen in the 1930s she was obliged to "mix up her Leonores and her Sentas with her Ulricas and her Azucenas". Thus she was denied what her daughter would later fashion: the bronzed beauty of a voice seamlessly joined across three registers.
Christa's Viennese-born father had sung alongside Caruso at the Met but later turned to directing and the teaching of acting and public-speaking. Peerless diction and a first-hand knowledge of stagecraft would be other hallmarks of Christa's art, learned from her parents and from two great modernist directors in post-war Darmstadt, Harro Dicks and Gustav Rudolf Sellner.
In 1955, after a 24-year apprenticeship (Christa had begun warbling the Queen of the Night's aria at the age of three), the call came from Vienna and the world was suddenly her oyster. At the Vienna State Opera they gave her trouser-roles, which she disliked, and Mozart for which she thought herself ill-suited, a wonderful Dorabella notwithstanding. What interested her were not androgynous boys such as Cherubino, Octavian and Strauss’s young Composer but mature women wrestling with life's dilemmas: Kundry and the Dyer's Wife, the Marschallin and Leonore.
As a mezzo-soprano Ludwig never had the wider public profile of a Callas or a Vickers, though she sang with both and revered their gift for becoming the characters they played. In 1960 Walter Legge cast her as a youthfully impetuous Adalgisa to Callas's Norma; in 1962 he chose her to sing opposite Vickers in the famous Klemperer recording of Fidelio. She was Kundry to Vickers's Parsifal and Carmen to his Don José, for which she still bears the scar. (Vickers actually stabbed her in the final scene.)
And did the trinity of great conductors – Böhm, Karajan, Bernstein – with whom she famously worked leave similar scars, as tabloid journalism would have us believe? The very reverse. If we are moved to say of Christa Ludwig "we shall not look upon her like again" it is in part because of the symbiotic yet at the same time independent-minded relations she enjoyed with these great theatre-conductors, with their deep understanding of the possibilities of the voice and their matchless knowledge of the operas they conducted. To discover the secrets of their individual cuisines, you must read Ludwig's book. Yet as colleagues they were complementary. Bernstein may have brought Ludwig to the Marschallin but to hear her Marschallin in all its glory it's to the unforgettable live 1969 Salzburg Festival performance conducted (and how!) by Böhm that we must turn.
Ludwig was a great Mahler singer even before the Mahler revival of the 1960s: witness her memorable 1958 recording of Kindertotenlieder with André Vandernoot. Yet it was Bernstein, she says, who later took her inside the music. He was also a rock in the early 1970s when the menopause played havoc with her all too vulnerable vocal chords. Karajan also kept faith, giving her, among other things, the chance to contribute a peerless Suzuki to a famous 1974 studio recording and film of Madama Butterfly.
Fricka and Waltraute (a treasured cameo) stayed with her to the end, joined by such charismatic oldies as Poulenc's Carmelite Prioress and Strauss's Klytemnestra. After seeing her Klytemnestra at the Met in 1984, Peter Conrad wrote, "A three-volume biography of this woman was realised physically by Ludwig in the 25 minutes of life Strauss allows her".
No mezzo-soprano has married beauty of voice and intelligence of portrayal quite as Christa Ludwig has done in a repertoire that has embraced over 80 roles. Once during a curtain-call, as the audience raved and cheered, Karajan murmured, "If only they knew how good we really are". Actually, I think we always knew how good Ludwig was. It was simply that there was never any need to shout it from the rooftops.
Source: Richard Osborne (gramophone.co.uk)
A tribute to Christa Ludwig, winner of the Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award 2016
Special Achievement: BBC Radio 3
The BBC's Third Programme began broadcasting (evenings only!) on September 29, 1946 – so a 70th birthday looms. In September 1967, it was renamed Radio 3 when the Corporation re-branded its radio channels and, since then, it has become an integral part of the nation's cultural life (and widely followed, and envied, internationally). We're making this award – while acknowledging and rewarding the network's 24-hour, seven-day-a-week contribution to our daily routine – for Radio 3's extraordinary role in the musical fabric of this country.
No other organisation, anywhere in the world, has delivered so wholeheartedly the BBC's first Director General Lord Reith's three-word challenge; "to inform, educate and entertain" (goals still enshrined in the Corporation's current mission statement and which have been influential on broadcasters throughout the world, America's PBS among them). But Radio 3 went a lot further: in its 70 years it has commissioned thousands of pieces of classical music and given them their first performances and broadcasts; it has supported many generations of young artists (notably in the past 17 years through its New Generation Artists scheme) and, through its performing groups (the BBC SO, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the BBC Philharmonic and BBC Scottish SO, the BBC Singers and, partly funded by the BBC, the Ulster Orchestra), has been an integral part of the foundation of the whole nation's musical life.
Looking back through the list of Gramophone Award winners sees plentiful representation of those orchestras funded and administered by the station: Luciano Berio and the BBC SO (1977), Boulez and the BBC SO (1983-1984), Andrew Davis conducting Tippett's The Mask of Time (1987), a historic recording of Webern conducting the BBC SO in Berg (1991), Nikolai Demidenko playing Medtner piano concertos with the BBC Scottish SO (1992), Jerzy Maksymiuk conducting the BBC Scottish SO in MacMillan (1993), Tortelier conducting Dutilleux with the BBC Phil (1994), Knussen conducting the BBC SO in Robin Holloway (1994), Tortelier conducting the BBC Phil in Boulanger (2000), Knussen conducting the BBC SO in Elliott Carter (2000), Bax symphonies from Vernon Handley and the BBC Phil (2004), Stanford orchestral songs from the BBC NOW and Richard Hickox (2006), Knussen and the BBC SO in music by Julian Anderson (2007), Jiři Bělohlávek conducting the BBC SO in Janáček (2008), Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish SO in music by Jonathan Harvey (2008) and by Britten (2009), Tortelier conducting the BBC SO in French concertante piano works (2011), Bělohlávek and the BBC SO in Martinů symphonies (2012) and Suk orchestral works (2013), Prokofiev piano concertos with the BBC Phil (2014) and, last year, Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius with the BBC SO conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.
So many artists received their first musical exposure thanks to the BBC: Peter Pears and Sarah Connolly were both members of the BBC Singers; Janet Baker, just a few weeks after joining the Ambrosian Singers, was granted a BBC Northern Home Service recital of songs by Brahms and Elgar, to name but three of the (subsequently) most high-profile. The New Generation Artist scheme, launched in 1999, has fed an extraordinary number of musicians into our world – the Gramophone Awards have recognised the talents of Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis, the Belcea Quartet, Alexander Melnikov, Jonathan Lemalu, Simon Trpčeski, Alison Balsom, the Quatuor Ebène, the Pavel Haas Quartet (five times!), Mahan Esfahani, Benjamin Grosvenor, Igor Levit and Benjamin Appl. The last two of those are among this year's winners.
It is impossible to gauge how much music the BBC has commissioned or premiered but, speeding past the British premiere of Berg's Wozzeck or world premiere of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No.4 (1935), the list of commissions is astounding. From Elgar's (undelivered) Third Symphony (commissioned in 1932), the list contains Walton's Crown Imperial (1937) and Troilus and Cressida (1954), Poulenc's Sinfonietta (1948), Bliss's Violin Concerto (1955), Tippett's Second Symphony (1958), Vision of St Augustine (1966) and New Year (1990), Lennox Berkeley's Second Symphony (1959), Arnold's Fourth Symphony (1960), Britten's Owen Wingrave (1971), Boulez's Rituel (1975), Schnittke's Second Symphony (1980), Giles Swain's Cry (1980), Birtwistle's Earth Dances (1986), Maw's Odyssey (1987), Elliott Carter's Anniversary (1989), Holmboe's Symphony No.12 (1989), Turnage's Your Rockaby (1994), and two works by John Tavener that might perhaps be described as modern repertoire pieces: The Protecting Veil (1989) and Song for Athene (1994). The list is endless. This year's Proms season alone witnessed new commissions from Anthony Payne, Michael Berkleley, Lera Auerbach, Helen Grime, Malcolm Hayes, Huw Watkins, Charlotte Bray, Mica Levi, David Sawer, Piers Hellawell, Emily Howard, Sally Beamish, Bayan Northcott, Julian Anderson and Tom Harrold.
Of course, we can't ignore the hours of live music-making – concerts and operas beamed from venues up and down the country, as well as from opera-houses and festivals around the world, not to mention what is simply the world's greatest music festival, the BBC Proms. Nor the magazine programme Music Matters (and for those of us with longer memories, the wonderfully urbane Michael Oliver's Music Weekly). Gramophone and Radio 3 come closest on a Saturday morning – not only sharing many contributors, but both exploring the wonders of the recorded catalogue. Building a Library is, quite simply, an institution. Then there's Choral Evensong, the lunchtime concerts (once from St John's Smith Square and St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol and now from London's Wigmore Hall). And that constantly fascinating weekly series, Donald Macleod's Composer of the Week.
So, as the 70 candles are lined up on the Radio 3 birthday cake (and the recent, raised, RAJAR figures showed the station in fine fettle), we stop to say congratulations, and thanks, and here's to sustaining your extraordinary part in our musical life for another 70!
Source: James Jolly & Martin Cullingford (gramophone.co.uk)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
♪ Partita in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004 (1717-1720)
v. Chaconne (arranged for the piano left-hand by Johannes Brahms)
Igor Levit, piano
Label of the Year: Warner Classics
Warner Classics, the guardians since 2013 of both the EMI catalogue and its many labels as well as those of Teldec and Erato, has had a very impressive year. Of course it's no surprise to us at Gramophone, because the guiding light behind the label is its President, Alain Lanceron, one of the truly inspired A&R executives on the classical record scene today (and the recipient not only of a Gramophone Award for Special Achievement in 2013 but also a welcome entrant to our Hall of Fame, voted for by our readers, the following year). Lanceron oversees both Erato (which has become the new home of both "old" Erato and Virgin Classics) and Warner Classics, and has allowed each label to assume a different but complementary identity, and this year has seen each label flourishing.
Almost exactly a year ago, Warner Classics unveiled a rare studio recording of a core opera, Verdi's Aida conducted by Antonio Pappano who has been a key artist on the label and its predecessor, EMI, since 1997: it received almost universal adulation and this year adds our Opera Award to its list of accolades. And violinists, too, sit at the heart of what the label has been up to – violinists of the past (as personified by the magnificent Yehudi Menuhin centenary box) as well as violinists of the present (Vilde Frang's Award-winning coupling of violin concertos by Britten and Korngold and the revitalising of the recording career of the great Kyung Wha Chung whose solo Bach is reviewed this month).
Warner Classics and its predecessor EMI has always had a rich tradition of fine pianists and Dong Hyek Lim gave us (last November) a really magnificent, and fresh, new take on Chopin's Preludes. It was followed (in December) by the first disc from the newly signed Italian pianist Beatrice Rana (a former BBC New Generation Artist). Joined by Pappano and his Roman orchestra, she gave us Prokofiev's Second and Tchaikovsky's First Concertos.
Nurturing new artists, showing complete belief in them and giving them the devoted commitment they need to become tomorrow's greats; honouring recording's heritage with beautiful presentation and bringing it alive for a new generation; and continuing that golden tradition in our own day, with a no-expense-spared studio opera drawing on the talents of today's leading artists: these are three facets of Warner Classics that come together to make them a worthy winner of our 2016 Label of the Year Award.
Source: Martin Cullingford & James Jolly
Anja Harteros records "O Patria mia" from Verdi's Aida, with Orchestra & Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Antonio Pappano.
Στο πλαίσιο των Ειδικών Βραβείων Γκράμοφον 2016, το Βραβείο Επιτεύγματος Ζωής απονεμήθηκε στην 88χρονη θρυλική Γερμανίδα μεσόφωνο Κρίστα Λούντβιχ, το Βραβείο Ειδικού Επιτεύγματος στο BBC Radio 3, ενώ με το Βραβείο της Εταιρείας της Χρονιάς τιμήθηκε η Warner Classics.
To be continued / Συνεχίζεται
See also / Δείτε επίσης
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part IX. Nominations and Awards: Instrumental & Recording of the Year
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part VIII. Nominations and Awards: Orchestral, Chamber, Contemporary
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part VII. Nominations and Awards: Concerto, Recital
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part VI. Nominations and Awards: Opera, Choral, Solo Vocal
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part V. Nominations and Awards: Baroque Instrumental, Baroque Vocal, Early Music
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part III. Special Awards 2016 | Young Artist of the Year: Benjamin Appl
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part II. Special Awards 2016 | Artist of the Year: Daniil Trifonov
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part I. All of the news from an inspiring and moving awards ceremony
ECHO KLASSIK Awards 2016