Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Monday, December 31, 2018

Adam's Passion – A Performance by Arvo Pärt & Robert Wilson – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tõnu Kaljuste – Michalis Theophanous, Lucinda Childs, Endro Roosimäe, Erki Laur, Tatjana Kosmõnina, Triin Marts, Trevor Mattias Sakias – Nyika Jancsó, Andy Sommer (HD 1080p)

Adam's Passion is the moving first collaboration between two "masters of slow motion who harmonize perfectly with each other" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). In the spectacular setting of a former submarine factory, American director and universal artist Robert Wilson creates a poetic visual world in which the mystical musical language of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt can cast its meditative spell. Three of Pärt's major works – Adam's Lament, Tabula rasa, and Miserere, as well as Sequentia, a new work composed especially for this production – are brought together here using light, space, and movement to create a tightly-woven Gesamtkunstwerk in which the artistic visions of these two great artists mirror each other.

The premiere took place on May 12, 2015 in Tallinn (with additional performances on the 13th, 14th and 15th of May). Orchestra, choir and soloists were conducted by Grammy award winner Tõnu Kaljuste, who had already premiered a number of Arvo Pärt's pieces. Including actors and background actors there were over 100 participants involved in this project.

Adam’s Passion

A Performance by Arvo Pärt & Robert Wilson

Music by Arvo Pärt
Stage Direction, Set Design and Lighting Concept by Robert Wilson

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Sequentia (2014)

For string orchestra and percussion. Dedicated to Robert Wilson. World Premiere

Adam's Lament (2010)

For mixed choir and string orchestra. Dedicated to Archimandrite Sophrony

Tabula rasa (1977)

For 2 violins, string orchestra and prepared piano. Dedicated to Eri Klas, Gidon Kremer and Tatyana Grindenko

Harry Traksmann, violin
Robert Traksmann, violin
Marrit Gerretz-Traksmann, prepared piano

Miserere (1989/1992)

For soli, mixed choir, ensemble and organ. Dedicated to Paul Hillier and Hilliard Ensemble

Andrea Lauren Brown, soprano
Maria Valdmaa, soprano
David James, countertenor
Endrik Üksvärav, tenor
Raul Mikson, tenor
Tõnis Kauman, tenor
Tiit Kogerman, tenor
Henry Tiisma, bass

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Music Director and Conductor: Tõnu Kaljuste

Michalis Theophanous..........Man
Lucinda Childs..........Woman
Endro Roosimäe..........Heavy Man
Erki Laur..........Another Heavy Man
Tatjana Kosmõnina..........A Woman
Triin Marts..........Another Woman
Trevor Mattias Sakias..........Boy
Lui Laur..........Another Boy
Evelin Tanis..........Girl
Kätrin Kärsna..........Another Girl
Madis Kolk..........Tall Man
Indrek Hirsnik..........Tall Boy

Dramaturg: Konrad Kuhn
Director of photography: Nyika Jancsó
Costume design: Carlos Soto
Associate stage director: Tilman Hecker
Associate set designer: Serge von Arx
Assistant set designer: Ann Mirjam Vaikla
Light design: AJ Weissbard

Production: Accentus Music, in coproduction with ERR and WDR/Arte

Produced by Paul Smaczny
Directed by Andy Sommer

Noblessner Foundry, Tallinn, Estonia, May 12, 2015 (World Premiere)

(HD 1080p)

Recent years have seen a few significant anniversaries celebrated for Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Wagner, Gluck, Rameau and Britten, but it's just as important to acknowledge and celebrate modern composers' work in their own lifetime. Such was the case last year with events for Harrison Birtwistle's and Peter Maxwell Davies' 80th birthdays, but these were relatively low-key compared to the scale of international concerts, releases and celebrations for the 80th birthday of Arvo Pärt. It's particularly surprising considering that, Gorecki and Taverner aside, Arvo Pärt's tonal compositions and their religious content seems to be at odds with modern music in an increasingly secular world, but his work undoubtedly captures a spiritual human dimension that it is hard to find elsewhere.

One of the most extraordinary musical events involving Arvo Pärt this year has been his collaboration with Robert Wilson for the creation of Adam's Passion at the Noblessner Foundry in Tallinn in May of this year. Composed almost entirely out of existing works written many years apart with no obvious connection between them, it's hard to imagine them adapted to a coherent dramatic stage work. Even with Adam's Lament (2010) at the core of the work, followed by Tabula Rasa (1977) and then Miserere (1989/1992), with a new prologue Sequentia (2014) as overture, the works are more contemplative in nature and not written with any dramatic presentation in mind.

Fortunately, that suits Robert Wilson rather well. Even in regular opera productions, Wilson has a unique way of working with shapes, symbols, colour and light that has little to do with regular narrative representation. He is undoubtedly at his best however when unconstrained by the need to serve narrative at all, such as in his groundbreaking Einstein on the Beach with Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs. His approach to the spiritual side of Arvo Pärt's music in the contemplation of Adam's Passion reduced to pure symbolism is as perfect a fit to the world/opera view of Robert Wilson as you can imagine. When you are dealing with the question of Adam, a subject that is Biblical, allegorical, symbolic and essentially spiritual, there is really no other option. A subject this vast in scale, with all its philosophical, theological and spiritual associations is never going to fit adequately into a narrative format.

Arvo Pärt's music is certainly capable of relating deeply to such matters, his own search to find the purest musical expression of his explorations into these areas coming down to his resonant  "tintinnabuli" style. It's the music of a composer at peace with himself but not in denial about the nature of humanity, their weaknesses and their detachment from their spiritual side. Pain is a constant theme, but it's the "healthy pain" of Wagner's Parsifal, accepting and embracing it as a part of what it means to be human. That doesn't mean that it's complacent either. Pärt's music is an expression of a continual search for answers, and of the beauty that is to be found in such contemplation.

It's this thematic core and treatment that in a way that makes the separate pieces chosen for Adam's Passion perfectly complementary, if not obviously adding up to something that is of a whole. Wilson and the composer do however fit the works together in a way that forms a meaningful arc with greater coherence. Sequentia and Adam's Lament deal with the question of original sin and the banishment from Eden, Tabula Rasa becomes a kind of search to regain Paradise/Innocence, trying to reconnect with the spiritual dimension that has been lost to a material view of the world, while Miserere weighs up mankind's efforts in the Dies Irae of Judgement Day.

From Genesis to the Apocalypse is still a considerable subject to depict on-stage, the simplicity of the words of the choral works and what they describe having to take in a lot of other complex ideas and associations. Wilson plays with the apparent simplicity of the words and the musical arrangements in his familiar manner, using very little in the way of props, but working with angular shapes, a limited palette of colour, movement and light, as well as considerable amounts of dry ice this time. But primarily light. There's justification alone in the subject for this – Adam's Passion is essentially "a search for light" according to the composer – even if light were not the main medium through which Wilson usually expresses ideas. It's hard to imagine a more perfect and complementary matching of visual ideas to musical themes.

And really, Wilson's designs looks incredible in the setting of the Noblessner Foundry in Tallinn. The first half an hour of the hour and a half long piece takes us through Adam's Lament with little more than an entirely naked man (what else for Adam?), holding a rock and walking slowly (what else for Wilson?) towards a branch at the end of a long platform extending right out into the hall, placing the branch on his head and making his way slowly back. He's not even Adam in this conception, just known as "the Man" (Michael Theophanous). Several other figures float across the stage; a woman (Lucinda Childs), a young boy, a young girl and an old man cross the stage during Tabula Rasa and Miserere, with the addition of one or two more objects. Whatever you take from their movements, everything is carefully placed, choreographed and measured to create an indelible impression.

It doesn't sound like a great deal but in such a setting every small movement, every subtle change of colour and light is noticed and, when combined with the words of the choral singing, adds significance to the power of the music itself. It's not about illustrating the music as illuminating it, filling the stage with a visual representation of the inner light of Pärt's music. It's a striking achievement, one that better than most testifies to the unique and special place that Arvo Pärt still holds in the world of contemporary classical music.

Source: (October 2015)

Photos by Kristian Kruuser / Kaupo Kikkas

More photos

See also

Sergei Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil – Beate Koepp, Kwon-Shik Lee – WDR Rundfunkchor, Nicolas Fink (HD 1080p)

Genesis: a concert performance of Martin Fröst – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Dollhouse: a concert performance of Martin Fröst – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Friday, December 28, 2018

100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy – All the posts

Embracing nontraditional scales and tonal structures, Claude Debussy is one of the most highly regarded composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is seen as the founder of musical impressionism.

Claude Debussy was born into a poor family in France in 1862, but his obvious gift at the piano sent him to the Paris Conservatory at age 11. At age 22, he won the Prix de Rome, which financed two years of further musical study in the Italian capital. After the turn of the century, Debussy established himself as the leading figure of French music. During World War I, while Paris was being bombed by the German air force, he succumbed to colon cancer at the age of 55.

Achille-Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, the oldest of five children. While his family had little money, Debussy showed an early affinity for the piano, and he began taking lessons at the age of 7. By age 10 or 11, he had entered the Paris Conservatory, where his instructors and fellow students recognized his talent but often found his attempts at musical innovation strange.

In 1880, Nadezhda von Meck, who had previously supported Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, hired Claude Debussy to teach piano to her children. With her and her children, Debussy traveled Europe and began accumulating musical and cultural experiences in Russia that he would soon turn toward his compositions, most notably gaining exposure to Russian composers who would greatly influence his work.

In 1884, when he was just 22 years old, Debussy entered his cantata L'Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Child) in the Prix de Rome, a competition for composers. He took home the top prize, which allowed him to study for three years in the Italian capital, though he returned to Paris after two years. While in Rome, he studied the music of German composer Richard Wagner, specifically his opera Tristan und Isolde. Wagner's influence on Debussy was profound and lasting, but despite this, Debussy generally shied away from the ostentation of Wagner's opera in his own works.

Debussy returned to Paris in 1887 and attended the Paris World Exposition two years later. There he heard a Javanese gamelan – a musical ensemble composed of a variety of bells, gongs, metallophones and xylophones, sometimes accompanied by vocals – and the subsequent years found Debussy incorporating the elements of the gamelan into his existing style to produce a wholly new kind of sound.

The music written during this period came to represent the composer's early masterpieces – Ariettes oubliées (1888), Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; completed in 1892 and first performed in 1894) and the String Quartet (1893) – which were clearly delineated from the works of his coming mature period.

Debussy's seminal opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, was completed in 1895 and was a sensation when first performed in 1902, though it deeply divided listeners (audience members and critics either loved it or hated it). The attention gained with Pelléas, paired with the success of Prélude in 1892, earned Debussy extensive recognition. Over the following 10 years, he was the leading figure in French music, writing such lasting works as La Mer (The Sea; 1905) and Ibéria (1908), both for orchestra, and Images (1905) and Children's Corner Suite (1908), both for solo piano.

Around this same time, in 1905, Debussy's Suite bergamasque was published. The suite is comprised of four parts – "Prélude", "Menuet", "Clair de lune" (now regarded as one of the composer's best-known pieces) and "Passepied".

Claude Debussy spent his remaining years writing as a critic, composing and performing his own works internationally. He died of colon cancer on March 25, 1918, when he was just 55 years old, in Paris.

Today, Debussy is remembered as a musical legend, whose uniquely structured compositions have served as a base for musicians over the past century, and will undoubtedly continue to inspire musical creation for decades to come.


Claude Debussy: Poèmes – Stella Doufexis, Daniel Heide (Audio video)

It is sometimes a shock to hear a mezzo sing this music, especially when we have had the bright-toned Debussy albums from Natalie Dessay on Virgin Classics and from Lorna Anderson and Lisa Milne on Hyperion so recently, but what a lovely discovery the Greek-German Stella Doufexis is. Her textually aware, warm-toned, luminous mezzo doesn't weigh the material down at all, given that many of the songs were written with the coloratura muse Marie-Blanche Vasnier in mind. Indeed, what pour out of the album are hidden depths to these sensual works.

This hour-long program neatly covers the full extent of Debussy's song writing career, sung pretty much chronologically, from his teenage gems like the 1880's Nuit d'etoiles, to the three Stéphane Mallarmé settings of 1913, where the piano writing becomes far more sophisticated and harmonically complex. Doufexis adapts mercurially to the conflicting challenges of each song; playful and alluring in Clair de lune, rapt and wheedling in Crois mon conseil, chère Climène, and wide-eyed and girlish in Fleur de blés. Every word of the text is felt and savored, but never at the expense of that opaque, exquisitely colored mezzo. She ends with the five Charles Baudelaire settings from 1889, which although written midway through his life, demonstrate his most advanced, Wagnerian-tinged style. She is breathtaking and ethereal in the tailing off of Harmonie de soir, and she is intimate rather than cold and distant in the elusive La mort des amants...

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Claude Debussy, the First Modernist – An article by John Adams in the New York Times

In 1890, the 28-year-old Claude Debussy felt forced to write the archetypal starving-artist letter to a friend. "Forgive me, but could you lend me 20 francs until the end of the month", he pleaded. "I'm very ashamed at writing to you, but I'm desperately hungry." This was the same Debussy who within the next dozen years would produce some of the most radically original, influential and popular of all European art music.

Hungry he may well have been (according to another friend, the composer could afford neither to eat nor to clothe himself), but "desperate" is a word almost impossible to associate with this most fastidious and discriminating of composers. Perhaps, as Stephen Walsh muses in his new biographical study, "Debussy: A Painter in Sound", he was merely resorting to his skills as "an adept borrower". Money and the practical necessities of life would remain a lifelong torment for him, an artist forever locked into his own internal world of sounds and images...

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“Debussy: one of the most original of moderns”, 1908, & “French composer Claude Debussy dies”, 1918 – Two articles from the Guardian archive

Debussy: one of the most original of ‘moderns’

2 February 1908: On his first visit to London, The Observer reviews Claude Debussy conducting his works at the Queen's Hall

M. Claude Debussy, who by nature is almost as shy and retiring as his music is diaphanous, came to London during the week and appeared as conductor at the Symphony Concert of the Queen's Hall Orchestra yesterday. It was decidedly interesting to see this imaginative modern in the flesh and to hear his interpretation of two of his works. His appearance in our concert-room emphasises rather curiously the extreme slowness of our methods in matters operatic, or, perhaps it would be better to say, our strange attitude towards the lyric art...

French composer Claude Debussy dies

27 March 1918: Of all composers in our day Debussy has the finest aesthetic. He has left us a world of beautiful music

The famous French composer Claude Achille Debussy, who had been suffering from cancer, has died in Paris at the age of 55. Debussy is not only the most original but the most refined and, since Berlioz, the first truly modern composer of the French school.

His first works gave merely the sense of an exquisite refinement and freshness, and when in 1884 he won the Rome prize with his scenic cantata L'Enfant Prodigue there was little to proclaim the most revolutionary of modern French harmonists. In the setting of Rossetti's poem The Blessed Damozel, for female voices and orchestra, he found a subject and a medium of expression as exquisite as even his imagination could desire...

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Javier Perianes plays Claude Debussy: Préludes Book I, & Estampes (Audio video)

A century after his death on March 25, 1918, many harmonia mundi artists are eager to pay tribute to Claude Debussy, the magician of melody and timbre, the great "colourist" and father of modern music. Javier Perianes, for his part, wanted to come back to these Préludes that are so close to his heart, after an earlier album devoted to the intangible links between Chopin and Debussy. This First Book, presented here in its entirety alongside the sublime Estampes, plunges us into the heart of music capable of dictating its title to each piece... beneath the final double bar...

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Claude Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor – Renaud Capuçon, Lahav Shani (HD 1080p)

The French violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Israeli pianist and conductor Lahav Shani perform Claude Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140. Recorded live at the auditorium de la Maison de la Radio, in Paris, on May 18, 2018.

Debussy's Sonata for violin and piano, third in a projected series of six chamber sonatas, was the last work the composer completed before his death in 1918. Progress on the sonata caused Debussy a great deal of frustration; in the end, he felt that it never really came together the way he had originally intended. Nevertheless, the work remains a powerful, forward-looking effort that manages to fuse elements of mainstream concert tradition with a wholehearted affinity for gypsy violin playing...

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Claude Debussy: Préludes, Books I & II – Walter Gieseking (Audio video)

Originally recorded in 1953 and 1954 in monaural sound, Walter Gieseking's magisterial performances of Debussy's Préludes were first released on CD in 1987 as a single disc, and they have been reissued in various guises many times since. Gieseking more or less owned these pieces during his lifetime and his performances have been judged as definitive by many critics since they were first issued on LP. Some have rightfully regretted that the pianist's technique was not more polished and that these recordings were not clearer and cleaner. But few have complained about Gieseking's obvious deep affection for the music or about his poetic and evocative readings of these masterpieces. Any listener who reveres Debussy and has never heard these performances should be interested in this disc...

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Claude Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor – Alina Pogostkina, Jérôme Ducros (HD 1080p)

The Russian-born German violinist Alina Pogostkina and the French pianist Jérôme Ducros perform Claude Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140. Recorded live at Solsberg Festival, Stadtkirche St Martin, Rheinfelden, Switzerland, on June 11, 2016.

Debussy's Sonata for violin and piano, third in a projected series of six chamber sonatas, was the last work the composer completed before his death in 1918. Progress on the sonata caused Debussy a great deal of frustration; in the end, he felt that it never really came together the way he had originally intended. Nevertheless, the work remains a powerful, forward-looking effort that manages to fuse elements of mainstream concert tradition with a wholehearted affinity for gypsy violin playing...

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Claude Debussy: La Mer – Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Fabien Gabel (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the French conductor Fabien Gabel, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performs Claude Debussy's La Mer. Recorded at Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, in November 2015.

Claude Debussy's rich and evocative depiction of the underwater realm remains an impressionistic milestone, a classic of its type. But what makes La Mer so good?

Ever-resistant to the confines of normal practice, impressionist composer Claude Debussy insisted that his La Mer was not a symphony. No, even though it contains three symphonic movements that could quite happily be classified as a symphony. Debussy preferred to call it a set of "symphonic sketches" – something of a milestone in itself...

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Claude Debussy: Les Trois Sonates (The Late Works) – Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Javier Perianes, Xavier de Maistre, Antoine Tamestit, Magali Mosnier, Tanguy de Williencourt (Audio video)

Isabelle Faust (violin), Alexander Melnikov (piano), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Javier Perianes (piano), Xavier de Maistre (harp), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Magali Mosnier (flute), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano) interpret Claude Debussy's the Three Sonatas (Sonata for violin and piano in G minor, Sonata for flute, viola and harp in F major, and Sonata for cello and piano in D minor), and four piano pieces (Berceuse héroïque, Page d'album, Élégie, and Les Soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon). Recorded in 2016 (December), 2017 (June) and 2018 (January-February) at Médiapôle Saint-Césaire, Impasse de Mourgues, Arles, France.

Described as "testamentary" on its back cover, the latest release in Harmonia Mundi's Debussy anniversary series is perhaps more an act of commemorative reflection than an overt celebration of his genius. It gathers together, by no means for the first time on disc, the Three Sonatas, written between 1915 and 1917 as the First World War destroyed Debussy's world and cancer slowly ravaged his body. They're framed and separated here, however, by his four last, rarely heard piano pieces, all of them ostensibly pièces d'occasion, though they're linked by a deep, sometimes despairing sadness that reveals much about the anguish of his final years...

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Claude Debussy: La Mer – Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk (HD 1080p)

The distinguished Polish conductor Jacek Kaspszyk conducts Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in Claude Debussy's "La Mer". Recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall in Warsaw, Poland, on January 27, 2018.

Claude Debussy's rich and evocative depiction of the underwater realm remains an impressionistic milestone, a classic of its type. But what makes La Mer so good?

Ever-resistant to the confines of normal practice, impressionist composer Claude Debussy insisted that his La Mer was not a symphony. No, even though it contains three symphonic movements that could quite happily be classified as a symphony. Debussy preferred to call it a set of "symphonic sketches" – something of a milestone in itself...

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Claude Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune – National Youth Orchestra of the USA, Valery Gergiev (HD 1080p)

Claude Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" peformed by the National Youth Orchestra of the USA conducted by Valery Gergiev. Recorded at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, on July 21, 2016.

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, known in English as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret. The flute solo was played by Georges Barrère.

Debussy's work later provided the basis for the ballet Afternoon of a Faun choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and a later version by Jerome Robbins.

The original orchestral version was completed in 1894, and Debussy reworked it for performance on two pianos in 1895...

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Claude Debussy and the Poetic Image

Similar to Impressionism, Debussy's works typically suggest a mood or atmosphere, rather than expressing a strong emotion or depicting a narrative or story.

By Megan Reich

March 29, 2018

The 100th anniversary of Debussy's death was this past March 25th. Debussy's adventurous uses of harmony and orchestration would come to impact nearly every distinguished composer of the early and middle twentieth century. His music leaves behind classical structures and agendas and moves toward beauty for beauty's sake. One experiences a profound sense of dreamlike improvisation and wandering when listening to Debussy's music.

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Nikolai Lugansky plays Claude Debussy: Suite bergamasque, Deux Arabesques, and οther works for solo piano (Audio video)

The distinguished Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky plays works for solo piano by Claude Debussy. The cd recorded in 2018, at Médiapôle Saint-Césaire, Impasse de Mourgues, Arles, France.

Harmonia Mundi's centenary edition of the works of Claude Debussy necessarily includes several different interpretations of his keyboard music, and Nikolai Lugansky's single-disc contribution offers only a selection of well-known pieces, featuring the Suite bergamasque and including L'Isle joyeuse, the Deux Arabesques, La plus que lente, Jardins sous la pluie, three pieces from Images II, and the Hommage à Haydn. For the most part, this is an album of reflective pieces that don't require a big sound, and the program shows mostly Lugansky's quiet side, emphasizing his polished technique and ability to glide nearly effortlessly over the keys with a delicate touch and warm tone...

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100 Years After Debussy's Death, He Remains the First ‘Modern’ Composer – An essay on Claude Debussy by Stephen Hough in the New York Times

Celebrating Debussy’s slinking, sparkling piano works

By Stephen Hough

March 2, 2018

When I strike a chord on the piano, more is heard than those notes alone. The other strings vibrate with sympathetic overtones, forming a halo over every note. Claude Debussy, who died a hundred years ago, was perhaps the first composer to write with this quality specifically in mind, to consciously harness it as part of his creative process.

Although it was Debussy's orchestral work "Prélude à L'Après-midi d'un Faune" that Pierre Boulez described as "the beginning of modern music", it was always at the piano where his revolutionary new approach to form and timbre developed.

With "Pagodes", the first piece of his triptych "Estampes" (1903), we hear something totally fresh. Yes, Debussy had heard Javanese gamelan music at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in the summer of 1889 and had written with great admiration about its complexity and sophistication. But his use of its tonal color (loosely, the pentatonic scale – the black notes on a piano) is not so much a translation of a foreign text as it is a poem written in a newly learned, fully absorbed language...

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Terrified and delighted: Works by Claude Debussy and André Caplet inspired by Edgar Allan Poe – Musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Is it surprised you want to be, perhaps even frightened, you should definitely catch on to the musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony when they play French works inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

The musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra begin with deceptively beautiful music by Debussy, the Danses for Harp and String Quartet, giving them a firm grip of the audience, later the music of André Caplet, student to and friend of Debussy.

The concert was recorded at Gothenburg Concert Hall, Chamber Hall, Stenhammarsalen, on November 6, 2016...

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Claude Debussy: Suite bergamasque, Pour le piano, Estampes, Images (oubliées) – Zoltán Kocsis (Audio video)

This is a recital of notably sensitive playing, but with too little of the mature composer to make a satisfying programme in itself. ''Clair de lune'' aside, there is not much real Debussy in Suite bergamasque, yet Kocsis does the Prelude, Menuet and Passepied – neo-classical before their time – as well as almost anyone can, with a discreet combination of delicacy and strength. The moonstruck movement itself is delivered with uncommon restraint. Debussy's Images oubliees, as they are sometimes called, were published quite recently, and the second and third are earlier versions of the Sarabande in Pour le piano and ''Jardins sous la pluie'' from Estampes. Some may question the wisdom of placing provisional and final versions on the same record; comparisons are unavoidable and entirely to the advantage of the latter...

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Claude Debussy: Images, D'un cahier d'esquisses, L'Isle joyeuse, Deux arabesques, etc. – Zoltán Kocsis (Audio video)

Gramophone, Instrumental Award 1990

Zoltan Kocsis is certainly one of the most talented pianists of our time and in the two books of Debussy's Images one can hear him at something like his peak. As soon as he plays the first few bars of ''Reflets dans l'eau'' one is engulfed in the extreme refinement of the sound. The shimmering lights on the water's surface come and go in the most fascinating manner...

In the Second Book the images are more specific. I felt that in ''Cloches a travers les feuilles'' Kocsis handled the initial right-hand theme too heavily, but none the less there is a wonderful sense of light and of the mysterious medley of shadows and delicate sounds playing on the ground and in the air. Kocsis has an ability to layer and control the dynamics between his hands that is quite superb. The classical purity and serenity of ''Et la lune descend'' are also caught with amazing insight and culture. The Images close with ''Poissons d'or'', in which the agitated fish appear and disappear in the water in an almost impudent manner; there is real humour and spontaneity here...

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 (Cantatas I, II, III and VI) – Anna Lucia Richter, Stefanie Irányi, Maximilian Schmitt, Roderick Williams, RIAS-Kammerchor, Freiburger Barockorchester, Hans-Christoph Rademann (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the German choral conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann, the RIAS-Kammerchor, the Freiburger Barockorchester, and the soloists Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Stefanie Irányi (mezzo-soprano), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone) perform Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio / Weihnachtsoratorium, BWV 248. Recorded live on December 17, 2016 at the KKL Luzern, Konzertsaal (Concert Hall in Luzern, Switzerland).

From Christmas Day to Epiphany in the 18th century, the town of Leipzig celebrated the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it not with a single feast day, but with a "season" – six special commemorations occurring between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany; the birth of Jesus (December 25), the announcement to the shepherds by a host of angels (December 26), the adoration of the baby by the shepherds (December 27), the circumcision and naming of Jesus (New Year's Day), the coming of the Magi from the East to find the child "born King of the Jews" (the Sunday after New Year's Day), and finally the Magi's worship with their gifts (January 6). On each of these days Bach's congregation was inspired by a cantata that recounted one of these stories, commenting and reflecting upon the events and their meanings for the Christian individual and community.

The Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, completed around Christmastime of 1734, is not an oratorio in the usual sense. Instead the format is that of a cantata. Similar to the Matthew and John passions, it includes a tenor Evangelist who narrates the story of the birth of Christ as it appears in Luke 2:1-21 and Matthew 2:1-12. In order to keep clear what is narrative and what is commentary, all the Evangelist recitatives – the Gospel texts – are secco (dry, with simple chords from the cello and organ), while the other recitatives have obbligato instruments or string accompaniment. These recitatives are unified by lyrical meditations, or arias. The rich, imaginative harmonizations of the ten chorales reflect the voice of the people, as they were hymn tunes mostly well known to Bach's congregation. The compiler of the libretto remains unknown, but most scholars believe that Christian Friedrich Henrici (under the pseudonym Picander), a German poet and the librettist for many of Bach's Leipzig cantatas, probably gathered and arranged the texts.

Bach had composed virtually all of his cantatas when he came to assemble the Christmas Oratorio. In fact many of the movements are paraphrases from two earlier secular cantatas dating from 1733, the year before he produced the Christmas Oratorio: Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen / Hercules at the Crossroads, BWV 213 (composed for the 11th birthday of Friedrich Christian, Prince Elector of Saxony) and Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten, (written to celebrate the birthday of Maria Josepha, Queen of Poland and Electress). Because of this, it is difficult to judge the extent to which Bach viewed the work as an entity. However, one might point to the unifying aspect of the same chorale used in the first and last cantatas. Equally convincing is the fact that all of the opening choruses are in three – an understood symbol of the Holy Trinity – and the oratorio commences and concludes in D major. Yet, there is no one consistent structural pattern uniting these cantatas. Five of them begin with a rousing major-key chorus, and one with a sinfonia. All but one end with a chorale but there is no homogeneity in their presentation, ranging from the unadorned four-part setting of the fifth to the resplendent, chorale/fantasia of the sixth.

Nonetheless the Christmas Oratorio was never performed under Bach's direction, condensing these six days and six cantata performances into a single performance of the paramount events of this thrice-told tale.

Source: Ryan Turner (

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 (1734)

I. Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage [00:00]*
II. Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend auf dem Felde [27:06]
III. Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen [56:06]
VI. Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben [1:20:19]

Anna Lucia Richter, soprano
Stefanie Irányi, mezzo-soprano
Maximilian Schmitt, tenor
Roderick Williams, baritone

Freiburger Barockorchester

Conductor: Hans-Christoph Rademann

KKL Luzern, Konzertsaal (Concert Hall in Luzern, Switzerland), December 17, 2016

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each part

I. Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage (Cantata for Christmas Day)

[Three trumpets, timpani, two flutes, two oboes, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola, continuo]

The opening chorus of the Christmas Oratorio is a paraphrase, taken from the secular birthday cantata for Maria Josepha, Queen of Poland and Electress, BWV 214 , from which Bach subsequently parodied a number of movements for the oratorio. The text for the original chorus called upon drums, trumpets and strings to fill the air. Bach's transformation of this material to wonderful and idiomatic Christmas music is a marvel. The opening chorus begins with the drums and is followed up by a mighty rush with the strings and winds to the dazzling entrance of the trumpets. Surrounded by two oboes d'amore, the alto recitative expresses contentment with the impending birth, leading us to the first aria, a paraphrase from BWV 213, a cantata originally composed for the House of Saxony. The original text, a denunciation of lust and the serpents of sin, now becomes a call to action – prepare yourself Zion, to behold the fairest.

The first and final chorales of the oratorio are a setting of the Passion chorale, which we usually associate with Lent. However, Bach's congregations would have been familiar with it as it exists in previously heard cantatas, most notably BWV 135. The movement that follows for bass soloist and the sopranos of the choir is among one of the most interesting movements in the entire cantata canon of Bach. Bach gives the sopranos four chorale phrases, each in a different key, and each is preceded and followed by an instrumental ritornello framing the entire movement. Furthermore, the chorale statements are extended by the bass's additional explanatory comment. This unique hybrid structure leads us to the powerful bass aria, another paraphrase from BWV 214 whose original form was a song of homage to the queen. A wonderful and grand setting of Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, with trumpets and drums punctuating each cadence, ends the cantata.

II. Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend auf dem Felde (Cantata for the second day of Christmas)

[Two flutes, two oboes d'amore, two english horns, two violins, viola, continuo]

This is the only one of the six cantatas not to begin with a celebratory chorus but with an expansive sinfonia. With the four oboes as shepherds accompanied by flutes and strings as the heavenly choir of angels, the gently undulating dotted rhythms shape a lush, pastoral effect. The Evangelist then paints the picture of the shepherds in the fields when the Angel of the Lord appears. The unsophisticated, yet beautiful chorale Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht contemplates the child's radiance. Two short recitatives act as a bridge to the first aria of the cantata, the first accompanied by strings and the second by the oboe choir. In the first the Angel, encompassed by a halo of sustained strings, announces the birth of the savior. The bass, backed by emphasizing woodwind chords, brings a reminder of the ancient promise. The tenor and flute aria is a call for them to gather, hasten and see for themselves the child who can refresh both body and spirit, as depicted by sweeping melismas in the voice and flute. The Evangelist then describes the infant Jesus in the manger. The chorale tune Vom Himmel hoch, one of the most beloved of the chorales, paints a darkish picture of the child in the gloomy stable where oxen once fed setting the scene for the gorgeous slumber aria for alto, flute, and strings. Notice how the flute hovers above the alto voice like a halo. The chorus then sings, without instrumental introduction, the energetic "Glory to God" chorus. There are two stunning moments when "peace on earth" is called for, compelling the choir to sing in hushed tones while the primarily eighth-note-driven continuo line temporarily subsides. The section ends with Vom Himmel hoch, this time accompanied by motives from the opening sinfonia.

III. Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen (Cantata for the third day of Christmas)

[Three trumpets, timpani, two flutes, two oboes, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola, continuo]

The third cantata completes the narrative wherein the shepherds and others hasten to the manger, extolling Jesus' powers. It begins with a brilliant chorus, again recycled from an earlier secular cantata, with trumpets and drums. The Evangelist tells of the shepherds making their way to Bethlehem. These words are encapsulated in the following turba chorus, less fully orchestrated and even shorter than the first. One of Bach's typically energized bass lines suggests determination while the flowing flute and violin melody intimates a flurry of activity.

A rather lengthy contemplative section follows. The first of the three plainly harmonized chorales Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, offers a summation of what the shepherds have been told. The jaunty, rustic duet for bass, soprano, and two oboes d’amore is addressed to the child, placing emphasis upon love and devotion. The Evangelist continues telling of the shepherds finding Mary, Joseph, and the child. The alto then sings an aria with violin describing Mary's innermost feelings of the miracle of the birth. The shepherds retreat, praising God for what they have witnessed. The final chorale is the only one in a minor mode and is, perhaps, the most potent of the hymn tunes used in the oratorio so far. It is serious, direct, and delivers an authoritative message of great significance. The opening chorus is repeated to close the cantata.

VI. Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben (Cantata for Epiphany)

[Three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, two oboes d'amore, two violins, viola, continuo]

The festival of Epiphany, the traditional twelfth day of Christmas, completes the narrative of the Wise Men and the revelation of the arrival of the savior to the world. Bach, therefore, celebrates with the maximum of musical ceremony, recalling the trumpets and drums. While the narration is concerned with the arrival of the Wise Men, much of the music exhibits a darker cast heading toward Lent. The opening chorus has a complexion that is both passionate and vertiginous, going in one direction then veering off unexpectedly in another, as befits the text, which is concerned with the treachery of Herod. After a bit of narration, the soprano sings an accompanied recitative and aria, rather abstract in its condemnation of Herod and its pronouncement of God's power. The aria is a wonderful piece, full of the trickiest phrasing and unexpected ideas, very much in the manner of the opening chorus. After more narration and a chorale setting, Bach abandons the Wise Men, and in the tenor recitative and aria again concentrates on the treachery of Herod. The little four-voice recitative is thirty seconds of magic and leads into the astonishing final chorus, a triumphant trumpet-and-drum affair in which is imbedded the Passion chorale. The Christmas Oratorio begins and ends, significantly, with the Passion chorale, much in the manner of many nativity paintings of the period that show in the background a little sapling growing which is meant to be the tree from which the cross will be made.

Source: Craig Smith, Ryan Turner (

Anna Lucia Richter

Stefanie Irányi

Maximilian Schmitt

Roderick Williams

Hans-Christoph Rademann

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Cantata BWV 63 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Advent Cantata BWV 62 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

This is the second of two cantatas Bach based on Martin Luther's Advent hymn ("Come now, Savior of the heathen"), the other being an early Weimar cantata, BWV 61, dating from 1714. The present work was composed for Advent Sunday, 1724, and was given its first performance in Leipzig on December 3. It thus belongs to the second annual cycle (Jahrgang) of Leipzig cantatas and conforms to the type of so-called "chorale cantata" that dominates the 1724-1725 cycle. In keeping with such chorale-based works, Luther's hymn is used throughout, the opening and closing choruses incorporating the first and last verses, while the alternating arias and recitatives framed by the choruses are free poetic paraphrases of verses 2-7 of the hymn...

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Advent Cantata BWV 61 – Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Georg Christoph Biller (Audio video)

"Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" ("Now come, Savior of the heathens"), BWV 61, is a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed it in Weimar for the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday which begins the liturgical year, and first performed it on 2 December 1714.

The cantata text was provided by Erdmann Neumeister, who quoted the Book of Revelation and framed his work by two hymn stanzas, the beginning of Martin Luther's "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", the main hymn for Advent with a melody based on Medieval chant, and the end from Philipp Nicolai's "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern". The librettist quoted developed his thoughts like a sermon. Bach structured the cantata in six movements, beginning with a chorale fantasia, followed by a series of alternating recitatives and arias, and concluded by a four-part chorale. He scored it for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor and bass), strings and continuo. Bach led the first performance on 2 December 1714. As Thomaskantor, director of music of the main churches of Leipzig, he performed the cantata again on 28 November 1723...

George Frideric Handel: Messiah – Susan Gritton, Cornelia Horak, Bejun Mehta, Richard Croft, Florian Boesch – Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi – Claus Guth, Hannes Rossacher (HD 1080p)

On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Handel's death, Vienna's theater an der Wien, famous for innovative and unconventional opera productions, realized a unique and truly extraordinary project: the staging of one of Handel's most popular oratorios. For this production, the theater signed up one of the most renowned stage directors of our time, Claus Guth. The result: "an emotionally and psychologically charged sequence of images", as the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote about Guth's portrayal of a family dynasty, complete with guilt, betrayal, suicide and reconciliation. Conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi triumphs "with his phenomenal orchestra [ensemble Matheus] and the subtle Arnold Schoenberg Chor" (Süddeutsche Zeitung). Winner of the Diapason d'Or and the BBC Music Magazine award, the ensemble is internationally acclaimed for its interpretations of early music on authentic period instruments. Offering "the best of Handel vocal artistry" (Frankfurter Rundschau) are Cornelia Horak, Susan Gritton, Richard Croft and the sublime countertenor Bejun Mehta. Video director Hannes Rossacher, internationally known as one of the leading video directors for rock and pop events (Rolling Stones), has captured this unique performance of the oratorio on film...

Christmas in Vienna 2008 – Elīna Garanča, Juan Diego Flórez, Genia Kühmeier, Paul Armin Edelmann, Wiener Symphoniker, Karel Mark Chichon

Internationally acclaimed soloists Elīna Garanča and Juan Diego Flórez are joined by their distinguished colleagues Genia Kühmeier and Paul Armin Edelmann in this exuberant holiday concert recorded live in Vienna by Felix Breisach. In addition to many traditional Christmas carols, the soloists and the Wiener Sängerknaben also perform a variety of popular classics such as the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" as well as "The trumpet shall sound" and the "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah.

Catalan, Peruvian and American Christmas carols and songs add an international note to the program, which also features a delightful collection of Old Viennese Christmas melodies. Sacred music is also writ large in this concert, with Mozart's "Laudate Dominum", Mascagni's "Ave Maria", Rossini's "Missa di Gloria", Franck's "Panis Angelicus" and the "Gloria" from Mozart's Mass KV257.

The Wiener Symphoniker are also allowed to give their best in a number of purely orchestral numbers, including Turina's "Fantasy Dance" and the "Farandole" from Bizet's "Arlésienne, Suite No.2". And to everyone who loves the unique sound of the world-renowned Wiener Sängerknaben, their rendition of "Holy Night" and "Leise rieselt der Schnee" is sure to provide great delight...

Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248 – Tölzer Knabenchor, Concentus Musicus Wien, Peter Schreier, Robert Holl, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (HD 1080p)

Recorded in 1982 in the magnificent baroque church at Waldhaus, Austria, the stunning Christmas setting of this performance features exquisitely hand-carved Nativity figures and manger scene sure to bring out the holiday spirit in listeners everywhere.

Concentus Musicus Wien and the highly acclaimed Tölzer Knabenchor join brilliant soloists including Peter Schreier, all superbly directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) – who proves himself once again as the master of old music and original period instruments.

Considered one of the world's leading specialists of Baroque music, Nikolaus Harnoncourt founded the "Concentus Musicus Wien" in 1953. It has since become one of the world's most respected ensembles specializing in the performance of early music on original instruments or faithful reproductions. With its opulent decor and gilt ornamentation, the Austrian Baroque church of Waldhausen provides a setting evocative of Bach's times. An added highlight of the program is the retelling of the Nativity story with the magnificent carved figures of two master wood-carvers of the Baroque period from Upper Austria. Also heard on the recording are thedistinguished tenor Peter Schreier, bass Robert Holl and the Tölzer Boys Choir...

Camille Saint-Saëns: Oratorio de Noël (Christmas Oratorio) – Bachchor und Bachorchester Mainz, Diethard Hellmann (Audio video)

Calig's 1976 recording of Saint-Saëns' Oratorio de Noël is a solid presentation of an extremely appealing work. Scored for five soloists, chorus, strings, harp, and organ, the oratorio lies within the capabilities of good church and community choirs, and could easily find a place in the repertoires of groups looking for an alternative to Messiah to celebrate the Christmas season. It's warmly, but not gushily Romantic, with gratifying vocal and choral writing, and both harmonic and contrapuntal richness and variety. Much of it resembles what Mendelssohn might have sounded like had he lived long enough to adopt a late-Romantic idiom. Several of the movements are strongly memorable, particularly the Prelude and Consurge, Filia Sion (with their nods to Bach's Weinachtsoratorium), the duet, Benedictus, and the trio Tecum principium. One of the standouts of this performance is the organ of Hans-Joachim Bartsch, whose sensitive playing and colorful choice of registration is especially striking. The choral singing and orchestral playing of Bachchor and Bachorchester Mainz, conducted by Diethard Hellmann is top notch – full and warmly nuanced. Sopranos Verena Schweizer, Edith Wiens, alto Helena Jungwirth, and tenor Friedrich Melzer sing beautifully, but bass Kurt Widmer is a little hooty...

Photo: Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia/Moment/Getty Images