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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The best new classical albums: January 2019

Recording of the Month

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op. 39, & En saga, Op.9

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Recorded May 28 - June 1, 2018, Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden
Released on January 18, 2019 by Alpha Classics

January 2019 is Sibelius Symphony month. I am much looking forward to Paavo Järvi's complete cycle from Paris for Sony  and also publishing Ateş Orga's review and Edward Clark's interview with the conductor – and, meanwhile, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (a Finn in Sweden) begins a Symphony and Symphonic Poem survey (to include Kullervo, I wonder?) from Gothenburg for Alpha.

I started with En Saga (as revised), an immediately gripping account, full of atmosphere and story-telling, Rouvali attentive to dynamics and note-values and the Gothenburg musicians honed and responsive, and the recorded sound is excellent, vivid and tangible, yet set naturally in a recognisable and unencumbered (if slightly too bright) acoustic. Rouvali builds the narrative (unstated by Sibelius, if full of potential for the imagination) by stealth, relishing the invention and colours (not least from the threatening bass drum) without overstating either and equally without denuding scenic promise. Forward momentum laced with poise and much expression is the hallmark, the latter quality to the fore during the still-centre of the piece  sensitive solo strings – and at the close (following a thrilling flare-up, with notable brass hairpins electrifying the air) during which Urban Claesson's clarinet musing is a model of poeticism as the music fades into the ghostly ether.

Symphony No.1 is no-less-fine in terms of Rouvali's commitment to it, opening with subdued if ominous timpani leaving room for (another) clarinet solo, lamenting this time, to cue a volatile reading, with passionate sweep to conjure a storm-tossed landscape but with no lack of light and shade or communicative leeway, if occasionally pulling the music out of shape, a lingering here, a broadening there, and a tendency to exaggerate the theatre of it all (the brass can now be a touch too heady).

A silent studio this may be (in terms of high production values, no noises-off) but this is not an empty orchestra, Gothenburg giving its all for a conductor who has much fervour for this music, as if an audience was present, even if the slow movement is a little too restless (some lovely tracery along the way though), for Rouvali is more likely to take time to enjoy the view. He comes into his own in the Scherzo, deliberately paced and ruggedly delineated (terrific hard-stick timpani), the Trio a languorous interlude, and the highlight is the Finale, Quasi una fantasia (not that those three words appear anywhere in Alpha's annotation), suiting Rouvali's penchant for drama and expansiveness: he makes us wait for those ultimate pizzicatos.

If a little wearing at times, and to a certain extent predictable as to interpretative choices, this first volume – one that compels if not to clear the shelves of existing versions – heralds what should be a distinctive Sibelius series, hopefully cloth being cut to suit each work. If we gave half-stars, this is three-and-a-half. I am being cautious.

Source: Colin Anderson (

With so much exceptional competition in the catalogue, it's a brave conductor who would embark on a new cycle of Sibelius's symphonies. New kid on the block Santtu-Matias Rouvali, however, is no ordinary conductor: known for his podium antics as much as for his probing musicianship, the big-haired Finn, still only in his mid-thirties, has recently taken over from Gustavo Dudamel as music director of the illustrious Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and is also principal guest conductor of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. Until now his recordings have been mainly as accompanist in concertos, but for his first major outing with the Gothenburg orchestra on the Alpha label he pairs Sibelius's First Symphony with the early tone poem En saga, and the results are hugely impressive.

The Gothenburg Symphony has a long pedigree in this music going back to the days of Sibelius himself, and their playing throughout is immensely assured. Coupled with that is Rouvali's incredible attention to colour and textural detail. He is also the same age as Sibelius was when he completed the First Symphony in 1899, and this performance has all the vitality of youth combined with a natural feel for the harmonic pedals that underpin the music's progress. From the beautifully intoned opening clarinet theme (superbly played by principal clarinet Urban Claesson), through the animated Allegro energico to the growling close, the first movement is grippingly intense, while the second movement Andante produces some glorious sounds, not least the string choirs' bracing transformation of the main theme at 1'59'' and its exquisite follow-up.

The punchy Scherzo has an almost Mediterranean bounce and flair to it, as well as a Brucknerian sense of momentum, opening up to a magnificently Sibelian trio section with noble horns and lovingly intoned woodwind. But it is in the sprawling Finale that Rouvali really proves his mettle, drawing together the music's disparate strands to defy any criticism of the movement's structure and imbuing it with a profound sense of inevitability. The scurrying Allegro sections are superbly articulated without sacrificing any sense of excitement, while the framing Andante music has a noble depth to it, crowned by some truly splendid trumpet playing. This whole performances oozes class and character, providing further proof that the Gothenburg Symphony is one of the great Sibelius orchestras and, recorded in dazzling stereo, rivalling even the much-lauded Osmo Vänskä performances on BIS (in surround sound).

Most conductors pair the First with another of Sibelius's symphonies, but Rouvali keeps the focus here firmly on beginnings with a remarkably compelling account of En saga in its customary revised version of 1902. There's nothing normal about this performance, though, for it brings out layers of textural detail seldom heard even in the recording studio, but with an innate understanding of the work's unstated but palpable "programme". Indeed, it has a natural storyteller's vividness, with an epic arc but relishing the individual episodes, from rapt introspection to exuberant action. Both collectively and individually the Gothenburg players completely enter this world of unspecified legend to create a powerful sense of engagement that lasts long after the final bars have died away, completely justifying the decision to place this work last on the disc.

If future releases in the cycle live up to this first instalment, it will certainly be one to watch and to return to with relish. Documentation and recording are first class, and Rouvali's "solo" debut is definitely one to remember.


Witold Lutosławski & Henri Dutilleux: Cello Concertos

Johannes Moser, cello

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Conductor: Thomas Søndergård

Recorded September 2017 and March 2018, Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin
Released on November 2, 2018 by Pentatone

Few of the concertante works premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich enjoy repertoire status. Among them, the concertos by Lutosławski and Dutilleux were not only written concurrently but have been coupled often since the Russian's pioneering accounts more than 40 years ago.

Johannes Moser maintains a keen focus over the eventful trajectory of the Lutosławski – ensuring absolute poise over those flights of fancy that constantly throw the soloist's rhythmic precision off-kilter before the sardonic entry of the brass; which latter permeate the cello's speculations during the fractious exchanges of the "Four Episodes" that follow. Many performances rather lose momentum in the Cantilena but Moser neither falters nor sells short this music's rapt eloquence prior to a looming unison chord on lower strings which launches the finale. Here a violent confrontation is graphically characterised, the Berlin Radio Symphony delivering a pulverising response so the soloist's desperate final gasps seem more than usually affecting.

If the Dutilleux might be felt to avoid such extremes, its inspiration in the heady fervour of Charles Baudelaire (extracts from whose verse head each movement) confirms otherwise. Moser eschews any emotional uniformity, drawing a capricious response from the interplay between soloist and orchestra in "Énigme" then conveying the sombre plangency of "Regard" to perfection. Nor is the tensile rhetoric of "Houles" at all overstated, making for a seamless transition into the sensuous unease of "Miroirs" which, in its turn, sets up a decisive contrast with the "Hymne", whose startling emergence is cannily paralleled by its teasing evaporation.

Throughout both works, Thomas Søndergård propels the music forwards with a real sense for their vastly different yet equally inevitable destinations. The SACD sound has a convincing overall perspective and Moser's booklet note ably complements his interpretations. Among previous couplings, that by Rostropovich remains mandatory listening while that by Christian Poltéra offers less demonstrative but hardly less persuasive traversals. Anyone coming afresh to these masterly works, however, should now investigate this new release ahead of all others.

Source: Richard Whitehouse (

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita IV, BWV 828 – Italian Concerto, BWV 971 – Ciaccona from Partita II for Solo Violin, BWV 1004, arranged c.1897 for Solo Piano by Ferruccio Busoni

Federico Colli, piano

Recorded May 17-19, 2018, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England
Released on January 4, 2019 by Chandos Records

My last encounter with Federico Colli was a slightly frustrating one, with his readings of Scarlatti at times seeming overly interventionist. But what shines through this new Bach disc is a sense of musical daring; imagination, too; and sincerity by the bucketful, not just at the keyboard but also in his soul-baring notes.

He brings to the Ouverture of the Fourth Partita a compelling sense of grandeur, while the fast writing combines buoyancy with absolute clarity in the counterpoint, with myriad shifts of dynamics and phrasing. Those shifts are something of a Colli trademark and where they work well, as here, they can be very striking. But in places he can sound a little contrived – the Allemande, for instance, in which it seems as if every phrase is given a different tinta, an effect taken to further extremes in the repeats, and the Menuet, which sounds merely mannered. But the Aria is charming, if not quite conjuring the otherworldly intimacy of Richard Goode or the sublime simplicity of Murray Perahia. The Sarabande is a highlight on this new recording, full of iridescent beauty. And Colli's revealing of the inner working of the Gigue is utterly compelling.

The Italian Concerto suits him well – the easy virtuosity of the first movement is full of interest, while the finale abounds in fascinating touches and avoids becoming a mere speedfest. In between, he gives a rapturous account of the Andante.

He ends with the mighty Bach/Busoni Chaconne. This is again full of Colli fingerprints – an ability to withdraw the sound to a mere whisper, the sense of constantly experimenting with textures and phrasing, sometimes resulting in losing the wood for the trees. Busoni once wrote of wanting to remove, in his transcriptions, "‘the dust of tradition... I try to restore them to their youth". In Colli's hands there's occasionally a danger that the original becomes entirely unrecognisable: to my mind, central to this reworking of the Chaconne is Busoni's grandeur of vision, a quality that sometimes gets lost in the excitement of the moment. The drama is contained within the score itself, yet Colli sometimes adds to it needlessly, creating something overly Romantic. That said, there are many ravishing and compelling moments in his reading, and he has not only an epic technique but boundless imagination too. Just occasionally, though, I wanted him to rein things in a little.

Nevertheless, there's no doubt that Colli is one of the more original thinkers of his generation.

Source: Harriet Smith (

Cavatine – Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, Jean Françaix, Charles Koechlin, Olivier Messiaen

Cameron Crozman, cello
Philip Chiu, piano

Recorded October 25-27, 2018, Saint-Augustin Church, Mirabel, Québec, Canada
Released on January 25, 2019 by Atma Classique

Cavatine, the debut album of cellist Cameron Crozman and pianist Philip Chiu, explores the refined world of French music in the first half of the 20th century. Framed by the great Sonatas of Debussy and Poulenc, the programme includes lesser-known works by Messiaen, Koechlin, and Francaix. Together, they paint a vivid picture of the multitude of styles – from the impressionist to the surrealist – that defined the era. Described as a "mature artist with a profound musical imagination", (Toronto Concert Reviews), Cameron Crozman is being hailed as one of Canada's leading young cellists. Maintaining an active performance schedule in North America and Europe, engagements have taken Cameron to such prestigious venues as the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, Berliner Philharmonie, Paris Philharmonie, and Canada's National Arts Centre. An avid chamber musician, Cameron Crozman is frequently invited to perform with world leading artists and ensembles. Philip Chiu concertizes extensively as one of Canada's most sought-after chamber musicians. Along with pianist Janelle Fund, he forms one of Canada's most exciting piano duos, the Fung-Chiu Duo.


Carl Orff: Carmina Burana – Live from the Forbidden City

Aida Garifullina, soprano
Toby Spence, tenor
Ludovic Tézier, baritone

Shanghai Spring Children's Choir
Wiener Singakademie
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Long Yu

Recorded October 10, 2018, Forbidden City, Beijing
Released on January 18, 2019 by Deutsche Grammophon

In October 2018, record label Deutsche Grammophon celebrated its 120th birthday by hosting a spectacular concert at Beijing's Forbidden City (the first there since 1998) with their newly signed artists Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and maestro Long Yu. Top of the bill was a scintillating performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a work that surely matches the Forbidden City for its exotic color and boldness of ambition. The gathered forces don't disappoint – Orff's astonishing, often bawdy music is reinforced with a strong, focused chorus and soloists who add genuine drama. Soprano Aida Garifullina is utterly thrilling, while tenor Toby Spence's roasting swan in "Olim lacus colueram" is deliciously sinister. The orchestral playing is big and bold.


The albums were chosen by the owner and blog editor of "Faces of Classical Music", Alexandros Arvanitakis.

More photos

See also

The best new classical albums: January 2020

The best new classical albums: December 2019

The best new classical albums: November 2019

The best new classical albums: October 2019

The best new classical albums: September 2019

The best new classical albums: August 2019

The best new classical albums: July 2019

The best new classical albums: June 2019

The best new classical albums: May 2019

The best new classical albums: April 2019

The best new classical albums: March 2019

The best new classical albums: February 2019

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2019

The Faces of Classical Music Choose the 20 Best Albums of 2018

The Best Classical Albums of 2018 – By Zev Kane for WQXR

Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

Monday, January 28, 2019

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.15 in A major – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (HD 1080p)

A longed-for challenge for Santtu-Matias Rouvali – chief conductor of Gothenburg Symphony, who is a great admirer of Dmitri Shostakovich.

In the 15th Symphony, with its quotes from Rossini and Bartók, Shostakovich makes fun of the music itself while still being deadly serious. There are also very emotional parts in deep hues, from individual string instruments to powerful brass.

Filmed at Gothenburg Concert Hall, on November 23, 2018.

Shostakovich's Symphony No.15 differs in several substantial ways from his other late symphonies. The Eleventh (1957), subtitled "The Year 1905", and Twelfth (1960), subtitled "The Year 1917", are both programmatic and relate to the political and historical events associated with the year in the title. The next two symphonies have sung texts, with the Thirteenth (1962), for bass, chorus, and orchestra, carrying the subtitle "Babiy Yar" (texts by Yevtushenko), and the Symphony No.14 (1969), for soprano and bass soloists and chamber orchestra, not really a symphony but a collection of songs based on texts by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke.

With the Symphony No.15, Shostakovich's last foray in the genre, the composer at last returned to the purely instrumental and non-programmatic realm, which, one could argue, he had not revisited since the 1939 Symphony No.6. While it is true that the Symphonies 8, 9, and 10 carry no official program, the first two are clearly associated with the war (the Ninth is a victory celebration), and the Tenth allegedly contains a portrait of Stalin in its second movement. But the Symphony No.15 inhabits a purely emotional and intellectual plane, quite removed – as far as we know – from the world of politics and history. Yet it is generally agreed that the work is autobiographical, not in the sense that it depicts specific events, but rather that it expresses reflections on the past.

The Fifteenth is also unique in that it is lightly scored throughout, certainly the leanest of the composer's purely instrumental symphonies. Shostakovich had moved in this direction with the Symphony No.14 and had found increasing difficulty in writing in the late 1960s, owing to a nervous-system disorder – brittle-bone poliomyelitis – that gradually crippled his right hand, making simple tasks problematic and rendering the process of scoring complicated orchestral works an extremely grueling task. The Symphony No.15 was premiered on January 8, 1972, with the composer's son Maxim conducting. A typical performance of the work lasts from 40 to 45 minutes.

The work is divided into four movements: 1) Allegretto, 2) Adagio – Largo – Adagio, 3) Allegretto, and 4) Adagio – Allegretto. It stands apart from the composer's other symphonies in its quotations and near-quotations from compositions by others and by Shostakovich himself. The Symphony is, in fact, chock full of these quotations. The first movement, for example, quotes the famous (Lone Ranger) theme from Rossini's William Tell overture. The Fate motif from Wagner's Ring cycle and themes from Siegfried and Tristan und Isolde appear in the finale. There are near-quotations from Tchaikovsky and Mahler, and Shostakovich alludes to themes in some of his earlier symphonies.

The first movement, originally subtitled "The Toyshop", has a childlike atmosphere to its playfulness, yet at times sounds under the spell of dark and cynical forces. The second movement is long and enigmatic, having a funereal mood for much of its duration and climaxing in an outburst of what is clearly anger or frustration. The third movement is the shortest in the work (about four minutes) and is bitingly satirical, even nose-thumbing. The finale contains the most cryptic and perhaps most profound music in the work. Because it, too, appears to express the composer's thoughts on death, many have concluded that the autobiographical elements in the work are expressed in a sort of cradle-to-grave story, the first movement representing childhood and the finale the composer's final years and imminent passing.

Source: Robert Cummings (

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Symphony No.15 in A major, Op.141 (1971)

i. Allegretto –
ii.Adagio – Largo – Adagio – Allegretto –
iii. Allegretto –
iv. Adagio – Allegretto – Adagio – Allegretto

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Gothenburg Concert Hall, November 23, 2018

(HD 1080p)

Trying to Crack the Code: The Enigma of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No.15, Op.141

By Steve Holtje, 2006

Shostakovich began his Symphony No.15 while convalescing in a hospital. The first performance was by the USSR Radio Symphony conducted by Maxim Shostakovich on January 8, 1972. It's one of the stranger works in the composer's canon, and surprised early listeners with its repeated quotes of the famous theme from Rossini's William Tell and the "Fate" motif and "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Wagner's Ring cycle, as well as references to many of Shostakovich's previous symphonies. These deliberately blatant borrowings have never been definitively explained, but to some extent the composer knew this would be a valedictory work, so some form of autobiography has been assumed by later commentators and analysts, who regularly call it "puzzling" and "enigmatic".

The composer's liner notes to the first recording, by his son Maxim and issued on the official Soviet record label Melodiya, say the first movement depicts toys coming to life at night in a toy shop. No such light-hearted story could distract anyone but the most ignorant Soviet bureaucrat from hearing what a soul-shattering work this is as a whole, however. Here is my alternative, perhaps fanciful, yet plausible alternative interpretation of this movement and the work as a whole.

The musical quote in the first movement which has so long left analysts scratching their heads is the William Tell tune. In the West, this seems banal thanks to its use as the Lone Ranger's radio theme and subsequent appropriations of even greater triviality. But Rossini's 1829 opera was an important turning point – a popular, iconic creation of the early Romantic period (Shostakovich was in some ways an extension of the Romantic style, building upon Mahler), yet also Rossini's final opera before his lengthy retirement (Shostakovich's 15th Symphony was his final work in the genre). Most of all, it's a thrilling story of a fight against tyranny. Tell's talent (archery) places him in a position where his family is threatened (he's forced to shoot an arrow into an apple balanced on the head of his son), but he turns it against the oppressor (killing the cruel Governor Gessler). Shostakovich's musical talent placed him in a precarious position vis-a-vis the Soviet government; at times, he reputedly slept in the hallway outside his apartment so that if Stalin's agents came for him, Shostakovich's family might not be involved. Yet after following orders, he then (if the controversial memoir Testimony is believed) began inserting hidden anti-Stalin messages and double meanings in his compositions. Would it be surprising if in the presumably autobiographical Symphony No.15, Shostakovich were to so strongly identify with the character of William Tell?

Perhaps the high-spirited first movement is the young and exuberant Shostakovich, a rising star in the also-young and exuberant Soviet Union. Then comes the dark, menacing second movement with its crushing brass – Stalin's rise to power. The brass chorale starts with a somewhat heroic tone before turning sour, analogous to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath (a similar chorale appears in the Symphony No.11). The trombone glissandos recall Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District, which so offended Stalin when trombone glissandos raucously and vividly depicted a sexual encounter, leading to public denunciation of the composer in an unsigned Pravda editorial, shattering his career and his psyche.

Stirrings of energy in the Allegretto suggest a furtive, hushed transformation of the first movement's bustling hijinks. The percussion ensemble near the end is considered an allusion to the Symphony No.4, which – after Pravda's denunciation – was put into a drawer as too provocative, not to be played until a quarter-century later.

Then the finale opens with the "Fate" motif of Wagner's Ring, which recurs five times, twice linked to the rhythm of "Siegfried's Funeral March": Shostakovich could fight his fate, but not defeat it, and he knew his life was drawing to a close. There are seemingly deliberate doldrums in the finale, similar to the String Quartet No.15 of the same period. (Conductors who tighten up the movement too much lose this effect.) The Symphony opened with two bell chimes; it ends quietly, with a bell's single chime, lower in pitch. All the energy has drained out. Is that bell Shostakovich's spirit, still not completely crushed by the Soviet bureaucrats? Or does it mark the end of his life, as the bell at the beginning might mark his start?


Hailed by The Guardian as ​"the latest sit-up-and-listen talent to emerge from the great Finnish conducting tradition", the 2018-2019 season will see Santtu-Matias Rouvali (b. 1985) continuing his positions as Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, alongside his longstanding Chief Conductor-ship with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra close to his home in Finland.

Rouvali has regular relationships with several orchestras across Europe, including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Bamberger Symphoniker and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. As well as making his debut with the Münchner Philharmoniker this season, he also returns to North America for concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Following a very successful Nordic tour with Hélène Grimaud last season, the Gothenburg Symphony is back on the road in February 2019 for a tour hitting major centres in Germany and Austria with pianist Alice Sara Ott, and percussionist Martin Grubinger who premieres a new percussion concert by Daníel Bjarnason. Rouvali looks forward to other ambitious touring projects with his orchestras in the future, including appearances in North America and Japan.

In addition to the extensive tour, Rouvali's season in Gothenburg opens with Strauss' Alpine Symphony accompanied by Víkingur Ólafsson Mozart Piano Concerto No.24, and he looks forward to collaborations with Janine Jansen, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Baiba Skride throughout the rest of the season.

As another cornerstone to his tenure in Gothenburg, he is adding his mark to the Orchestra's impressive recording legacy. In partnership with Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Baiba Skride, a recording featuring concertos from Bernstein, Korngold and Rozsa is released in autumn 2018. This continues his great collaboration with Baiba Skride following their hugely successful recording of Nielsen and Sibelius' violin concertos with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in summer 2015.

Rouvali has been Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra since 2013. Highlights of the tenure so far include a Sibelius symphony cycle in autumn 2015, and the Orchestra's first tour to Japan in spring 2017 where they were accompanied by an exhibition of original Moomin drawings by Tove Jansson to mark the opening of the new museum at the Tampere Hall. He opens the 2018-2019 season with a Beethoven programme with pianist Javier Perianes.

Alongside an extremely busy symphonic conducting career, as Chief Conductor in Tampere he has conducted Verdi's La forza del destino and most recently world premiere of Olli Kortekangas's My Brother's Keeper (Veljeni vartija) with Tampere Opera in spring 2018.


More photos

See also

Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

Dmitri Shostakovich – All the posts

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor | Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.8 in C minor – Lise de la Salle, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Karina Canellakis – Sunday, January 27, 2019, 3:00 PM EST (GMT-5) – Livestream

Lise de la Salle (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith)

Lise de la Salle "was an expert guide through Schumann's score by turns turbulent and reverent, deftly illuminating the passions..." raved the New York Times. Hear her in Robert Schumann's romantic Piano Concerto, led by rising podium star Karina Canellakis, who also conducts the defiant Eighth Symphony of Shostakovich, written in the throes of World War II.

Sunday, January 27
Los Angeles: 12:00 PM
Detroit, New York, Toronto, Lima03:00 PM
Brasília: 06:00 PM
London: 08:00 PM
Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw, Stockholm, Oslo: 09:00 PM
Athens, Kiev, Jerusalem, Beirut, Cape Town: 10:00 PM
Moscow, Ankara: 11:00 PM

Monday, January 28
Abu Dhabi: 00:00 AM
New Delhi: 01:30 AM
Beijing, Manila, Hong Kong: 04:00 AM
Tokyo, Seoul: 05:00 AM

Live on Livestream

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

♪ Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1841-1845) *

i. Allegro affetuoso
ii. Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso
iii. Allegro vivace

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

♪ Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65 (1943)

i. Adagio – Allegro non troppo
ii. Allegretto
iii. Allegro non troppo
iv. Largo
v. Allegretto

Lise de la Salle, piano *

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Karina Canellakis

(HD 720p)

Live from Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit

Sunday, January 27, 2019, 03:00 PM EST (GMT-5) / 10:00 PM EET (GMT+02:00)

Live on Livestream

Photo by Lynn Goldsmith
Lise de la Salle, born in 1988 in Cherbourg, France, starts playing the piano at the age of four and gives her first concert, broadcasted live by Radio France, when she is nine. Aged 13 she makes her debut with an orchestra with Beethoven's Concerto No.2.

Since 2001 she is pursuing an impressive international career and performing in the major conert halls of Europe, the United States and Asia like the Berliner Philharmonie, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, the Grand National Theater Beijing, the Metropolitan Museum New York, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Tonhalle Zurich, the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, the Herkulessaal in Munich, the Rose Theater Lincoln Center New York, the Auditorium du Louvre Paris, the Grand Auditorium in Lisbon, the Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg, the Lincoln Center Washington, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, and the Alte Oper Frankfurt.

She is working with the conductors James Conlon, Fabio Luisi, Osmo Vänskä, Philippe Herreweghe and also under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras, Mareck Janowski, Semyon Bychkov, Alexander Dmitriev, George Pehlivanian, Lan Shui, James Gaffigan, Ruben Gazarian, Karl-Heinz Steffens, Keith Lockhart and Lawrence Foster.

During the season 2010 she appears at venues like the Musikverein in Vienna, the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Moscow Conservatory, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Boston Symphony Hall, the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Suntory Hall in Tokyo.

Lise de la Salle is regularly invited to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Wiener Symphoniker, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre National de France, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne, the Orchestre National de Belgique, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, the San Fransisco Symphonic Orchestra, the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn, the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic.

Her many festival appearances include: Ravinia Festival, La Roque d'Anthéron, Aspen Festival, Bad Kissingen Festival, Enesco Festival in Bucharest, Saint-Denis Festival, Les Folles Journées in Nantes, Tokyo and Warsaw.

A first disc dedicated to Ravel and Rachmaninov, unanimously acclaimed by critics, was the beginning of her cooperation with the the record label Naïve Classique in 2002. Her second recording (Bach, Liszt 2004) was honoured with the award "CD of the month" by Gramophone, the most influential magazine of classical music in the world in 2005.

Her third album "Concertos No.1" (Shostakovich, Liszt, Prokofiev, released in 2007) with the Gulbenkian Orchestra under the baton of Lawrence Foster received the awards "CD of the month" and "Editor's choice" by Gramophone in 2008. Finally a double album, dedicated to Mozart and Prokofiev including a DVD "Lise de la Salle, Majeure!", directed by Jean-Philippe Perrot, was awarded the "Editor's choice" by Gramophone and the "BBC Music Magazine Choice" by BBC Music Magazine the same year.

A new disc dedicated to Chopin marks the year 2010. It features live recordings of the 2nd Concerto with the Staatskapelle Dresden under the baton of Fabio Luisi and the four Ballades.

Between 1997 and 2004 Lise de la Salle won numerous competitions (e.g. First Prize in the 2004 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York). From 1998 to 2006 she studied with Pascal Némirovski. She also attended the master class of Bruno Rigutto at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris – CNSM. For a long time she followed the advice of Geneviève Joy-Dutilleux.


Karina Canellakis is the newly appointed Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, beginning in the 2019-2020 season. Internationally acclaimed for her emotionally charged performances, technical command and interpretive depth, Canellakis' reputation has risen quickly since winning the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2016.

Ms. Canellakis makes several notable debuts in the 2018-2019 season, including with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, St Louis Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Dresdner Philharmoniker, Olso Philharmonic, and Stavanger Symphony. She also makes her Australian debut in a four-city tour conducting the symphony orchestras of Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, and Tasmania. In addition, Canellakis leads the prestigious 2018 Nobel Prize Concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, with whom she appears twice in this season. Over the summer, she made her Wiener Symphoniker debut at the Bregenz Festival, and returned to the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Re-invitations this season featuer the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl as well as the symphony orchestras of Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee, and North Carolina. She also conducts Don Giovanni with the Curtis Opera Theater at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. In Europe, she returns to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne, Swedish Radio Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, and Scottish Chamber Orchestra, among others.

Recent seasons have featured debuts with the Orchestre de Paris, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Bamberger Symphoniker, National Orchestra of Spain, the Hallé Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the Toronto, Vancouver, and Houston symphonies. On the operatic stage, she has conducted Die Zauberflöte with the Zurich Opera, Le nozze di Figaro with Curtis Opera Theatre, and gave the world premiere of David Lang's opera The Loser at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She has also led Peter Maxwell Davies' new opera The Hogboon with the Luxembourg Philharmonic, and a fully staged production of Verdi's Requiem at the Zurich Opera.

Already known to many in the classical music world for her virtuoso violin playing, Canellakis was initially encouraged to pursue conducting by Sir Simon Rattle while she was playing regularly in the Berlin Philharmonic for two years as a member of its Orchester-Akademie. In addition to appearing frequently as soloist with various North American orchestras, she subsequently played regularly in the Chicago Symphony for over three years, and appeared on several occasions as guest concertmaster of the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway. She also spent many summers performing at the Marlboro Music Festival. She plays a 1782 Mantegazza violin on generous loan from a private patron.

Karina Canellakis previously served as Assistant Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. She is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School. Born in 1982 and raised in New York City, she speaks French, German and Italian.


Karina Canellakis (Photo by Chris Christodoulou)

Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54

In September 1840 Clara and Robert finally married. After years of producing one masterpiece for solo piano after another (his first twenty-three opus numbers are solo piano works) he turned gloriously to song, and in the space of a single year wrote something like 168 of them. Alongside his composing, he was editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. This didn't bring in much income, and he knew the time had come to prove himself with a big symphonic work. His first success in that field came with his "Spring" Symphony, sketched in just four days and premiered at the Gewandhaus on 31 March 1841 with Mendelssohn conducting.

Just over a month later, he began work on a Phantasy for piano and orchestra, again working with great speed and completing it in ten days. The following week he orchestrated it, and a few months later made some revisions. It was first played through during a rehearsal for his "Spring" Symphony at the Gewandhaus on 13 August 1841. The orchestra's concertmaster, Ferdinand David, conducted, and Clara, two weeks away from giving birth to their first child, was of course at the piano. In her diary she wrote: "I also played the Fantasie in A minor; unfortunately, the performer herself had little pleasure (in the empty auditorium, that is), she heard neither herself nor the orchestra. But I played it twice and found it wonderful! When properly rehearsed, it is certain to give audiences the greatest pleasure. The piano is superbly woven together with the orchestra – you cannot conceive of one without the other".

It seems, however, that nobody much wanted a one-movement work. Despite many attempts, a publisher could not be found and the work was put aside. Another four years passed before Schumann worked on it again. He generally immsersed himself in one genre at a time, and 1842 was his year for chamber music. His Piano Quintet Op.44, with its virtuoso piano part, served as a pseudo-concerto for Clara, still awaiting the real thing. In 1843 Schumann devoted himself to large-scale choral works, and the following year Robert and Clara undertook a five-month tour of Russia. Robert was seriously ill for some time after his return from Russia, and at the end of 1844 they moved to Dresden in order to find more peace and quiet to work.

When Schumann did finally turn his attention to his piano concerto once more, he started by composing the third movement finale, calling it a Rondo. Only after completing that did he write the Intermezzo that connects this with the original first movement (which he then revised). It also seems that the bridge passage connecting the Intermezzo with the Rondo gave him particular trouble (there exist seven different versions). We are all so familiar with this music now that it seems so evident, but it wasn't arrived at easily.

John Worthen in his excellent biography of Schumann notes how ironic it was that Schumann finally gave Clara "her" concerto at a time in her life when she could hardly practise. By now she had three children and knew a fourth was on its way (she was pregnant ten times in fourteen years), and because Robert needed silence to compose she could only practise when he took his afternoon walk. Often she was too exhausted by that time to get much work done, and her performances were not frequent. But finally she had her concerto, and the first performance was given in the Hôtel de Saxe in Dresden on 4 December 1845. Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the concerto is dedicated, conducted the orchestra of the subscription concerts.

The Concerto was a success, as was confirmed by the review in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: "We all have reason to hold this composition in very high esteem and place it among the best by this composer, primarily because the usual monotony of the genre is happily avoided and the entirely obbligato orchestra part, fashioned with great love and care, is given its full due without leaving the impression of impairing the piano's achievements, and both parts keep up their independence in a beautiful alliance". The second performance (although it is often referred to mistakenly as the premiere) was given in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on New Year's Day 1846. There seems to be some confusion over who conducted: some sources say Mendelssohn, others say Niels Wilhelm Gade, who shared the conductor's duties at the time with his illustrious colleague.

Few pieces attract the attention of the audience so quickly as this Concerto. As Michael Steinberg so vividly writes: "The orchestra fires the starting gun, a single eighth-note [quaver] E, and the piano moves out of the blocks with a powerful cascade of fully voiced chords". The soloist, in fact, hardly stops playing during the entire concerto. The winds are given the initial statement of the opening melody, one in which the "Clara" motif of descending notes – abundantly used throughout Schumann's piano works – is fully apparent. There is no change of tempo marking here, even if the "tradition" is to slow down. The subsequent piano entry of the theme is powerfully expressive but intimate at the same time. The dialogue between piano and orchestra is constant, each taking their turn to be soloist and accompanist. This is most striking in the slower passage, marked Andante espressivo, in the middle of the first movement – a magical moment of repose, where the clarinet and piano are the featured soloists. It is interesting to compare the piano part in the central Più animato with what remains of that early Phantasy in A minor, where the writing is a lot more difficult in the later version. Perhaps Clara complained that it wasn't showy enough? The written-out cadenza is perfectly paced, and gave Clara the chance to shine. It begins with counterpoint, goes through some recitative-like passages, gains huge momentum with a brilliant outburst of chords over descending octaves, and returns passionately to the opening theme. From there the cadenza dissolves into a trill, but ends not with the standard cadence but rather leads directly into the re-entry of the orchestra, now giving us the theme much faster but in hushed tones. The crescendo to the final, uncompromising chords is dramatic to say the least.

Having written the last movement next, it is understandable that Schumann didn't want anything too "meaty" for the "slow" movement, when he finally got round to composing it. After the drama and shifting moods of the first movement, a short Intermezzo seems just the thing. Here, the notes of the first movement's descending motif are turned upside down and now go upwards, but the chamber-music feeling continues and is even amplified. The clarinet again features strongly, but so does the cello section, called upon to give us a "big tune". So often this central section can become distorted, wallowing in sentiment rather than retaining its confidentiality.

The bridge that Schumann finally settled on to link the Intermezzo with the finale returns to the "Clara" motif, first in the major, then in the minor, before bursting into the theme of the Allegro vivace. Here the ascending notes create a sense of unbounded joy. All the passagework in the piano part must sing and be heard. All that scurrying about in different keys during the most difficult moment of the Concerto – where Schumann inserts a prime example of his beloved rhythmic games, terrifying every conductor, even Mendelssohn himself it seems – must sound easy and coherent. And danceable. But what an exhilarating piece of music it is. Clara waited a long time for it, but it was worth it in the end.

Source: Angela Hewitt, 2012 (

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65

The Eighth Symphony is a dark, epic work standing at the very centre of Shostakovich's output. Composed in a mere ten weeks between July and September 1943, it was first performed in Moscow on 4 November under Evgeny Mravinsky. Expectations were high, for Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, associated with the siege of Leningrad, had been adopted both in Russia and the West as a symbol of resistance to the Nazis. It was hoped that the Eighth would follow in its patriotic footsteps, but with the difference that the tide of war had now turned. Earlier that year the German Sixth army had been annihilated at Stalingrad, the siege of Leningrad had been lifted, and the Nazis were in retreat.

What should have been a symphony of heroism and victory turned out to be nothing of the sort. At a time when optimism and glorification of the Motherland under Stalin's inspired leadership were the order of the day, anything more complex – let alone the questioning ambiguities of Shostakovich's new symphony – was bound to be received with suspicion. One representative comment after the first performance was that, "it sees only the dark side of life. Its composer must be a poor-spirited sort not to share the joy of his people". After the Leningrad premiere in 1944 the work virtually disappeared from the repertory, and at the notorious 1948 conference that condemned the finest composers in Russia it was singled out for its "unhealthy individualism" and pessimism.

Shostakovich is reported as saying in 1942 that his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies were concerned "not only with Fascism, but also events in our country, as well as tyranny and totalitarianism in general", and that "Fascism is not just National Socialism; this music is about terror, slavery, moral decay". If this holds true for the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, it is even more relevant to the Eighth. At the same time, the fact that this is a war symphony cannot be minimised. After all, if even such anti-Bolshevik exiles as Rachmaninov and Stravinsky discovered (rather to their surprise) that they were Russians first and anti-Bolsheviks second, how can one doubt the visceral reactions of anyone who actually lived in Russia throughout a war that cost the Soviet Union something like 27 million dead, two thirds of them civilians?

The Eighth is a great tragic statement about suffering, but its validity need not rely on the specific circumstances of its composition. Written 75 years ago, it continues to ring out as the voice of an individual sensibility speaking for the millions whose lives have been shattered by totalitarianism, militarism and cruelty, whatever their sources. The theme is as topical today as it was in 1943.

The Symphony's opening – dotted-note gestures in the strings leading to a sparse, bleak theme in the violins – recalls that of the Fifth, and here too Shostakovich immediately creates a sense of vast musical space within which the tension gradually mounts, the tempo increases, the themes become brutalised and the music eventually erupts into the first of the Symphony's three great climaxes, drum roll crescendos punctuating massive cries from the full orchestra. The long cor anglais threnody that follows is characteristic of much of the Symphony's quiet music: a sense of numb shock after the experience of horror.

The two following movements, both short and fast, take up and intensify ideas from the first movement. The second, beginning as a grimly mechanised march, contains woodwind solos – notably for the scampering piccolo – in Shostakovich's most sardonic vein. The third is a grim moto perpetuo interspersed with vivid shrieks and howls, and hurtles towards the second big climax. After this the Symphony's opening dotted rhythm is given out by brass and strings, then sinks into the bass, where it is repeated eleven times, underpinning the most introverted music in the Symphony, quiet throughout, with a sense of repression, exhaustion, even suffocation. There is a vast sense of relief as the music at last slides into a warm C major and a solo bassoon begins the finale.

Shostakovich's own public comments on his music were usually trite, if not downright misleading. Thus he explained: "This new work is an attempt to look into the future, towards the post-war age. The Eighth Symphony contains many inner conflicts of both a tragic and dramatic nature, but it is on the whole an optimistic, life-affirming work... the fifth movement contains bright, pastoral music with various kinds of dance elements interwoven with folk motifs".

Even Shostakovich couldn't bring himself to claim that this finale was triumphant or victorious. Many people in the USSR believed that the postwar period would lead to a new freedom for their country. Shostakovich was clearly not one of them; that much seems obvious from the placing of the third great climax, a virtual repeat of that in the first movement. In its wake a long solo for the bass clarinet with solo violin appears as a sort of halfway-stage between the first movement's lamenting cor anglais solo and the sardonic clowning of the piccolo in the second movement. The Symphony ends with a gradual quiet fade out, as though drained of energy or feeling.

Source: Andrew Huth, 2018 (

Lise de la Salle (Photo by Marco Borggreve)

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

George Frideric Handel: Rodelinda – Jeanine De Bique, Tim Mead, Benjamin Hulett, Avery Amereau, Jakub Józef Orliński, Andrea Mastroni – Le Concert d'Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm (HD 1080p)

Even by usual standards of patently implausible baroque opera plots, "Rodelinda" reaches new heights of Delphic abstruseness. William Hartston in the London Express described Handel's 19th opera as "everyone wanting to marry or kill everyone else".

Regardless of Hartston's hyperbole, confusion certainly abounds. A Penelope-esque wife erroneously thinks her husband is dead not once, but twice. The two principal protagonists mope around in a fiortura funk for most of the narrative. The imprisoned deposed-king mistakenly tries to kill his liberator. A betrothed couple separately renege. A cynical usurper is pardoned with "Clemenza di Tito-like" magnanimity. The names of many of the characters are unpronounceable and the happy ending beggars belief. That said, "Rodelinda" contains some of the most marvelous operatic music Handel ever wrote.

Regisseur Jean Bellorini's solution to the manifold dramaturgical conundrums was to transform a quasi-Greek tragedy into a variegated Legoland kindergarten.

In his program notes, Bellorini explains "We are in the mental universe of Flavio looking at the uncompromising world of adults, with all the fantasy and violence of a child's dream or nightmare". To remind the audience of this dubious dramaturgy (which had already been used by Claus Guth in Madrid) there were huge black and white projections of Flavio flashed frequently onto a rear scrim.

Alors, the kiddie-concept is all very well but the perspective of a child is inherently much more limited than the range of complex emotions manifest in Nicola Francesco Haym's poetic libretto drawn from Antonio Salvi and Pierre Corneille. As far as Handel was concerned, the mute moppet was of such minimal relevance he wrote neither melody nor text for the ubiquitous toddler. In fact, Handel had already given Flavio his own opera two years earlier.

The stage design was made up of constantly shifting, low ceiling doll's house rooms joined together like railway carriages. An assortment of hand-puppets as Lilliputian doubles of the dramatis personae dominated the extra-textual action. Reflecting the shifting line-dance of rooms, a toy train shunted back and forth for the first two acts but must have derailed before the third. There was frequent use of scary gauze facemasks which made the characters look particularly ghoulish for no particular reason.

In case the audience didn't know which parts of the opera were important, garish fluorescent tubes descended periodically to frame the relevant singers. There was so much extraneous action going on it was hard to know what was actually happening in the plot. The psycho-sexual and underlying political power play in "Rodelinda" were reduced to the triviality of the Tintookies or Thomas the Tank Engine.

Bellorini is a graduate of the Ecole Claude Mathieu specializing in comedy, but there were not many laughs in this staging other than some funny Chaplin-esque walks, hops, and pirouettes by Jakub Józef Orliński as Unulfo.

Fittingly Macha Makeïeff's eclectic costumes had an abundance of iridescent froufrou and frills which made the protagonists closer to commedia dell'arte clowns than Corneille's classic tragedy. The only consistently pleasing aspect of the production was the lighting by Luc Muscillo and there were some especially memorable imagines such as the vast blue/grey background to Bertarido's solitary scenes.

Directrice musicale Emmanuelle Haïm has worked on more than 60 works by Handel which gives her significantly more credibility than Monsieur Bellorini, whose previous operatic exploits number three. Leading the c.30 member Concert d'Astrée ensemble with verve and panache, maestro Haïm kept the tempi pacy and orchestral sonorities pungent. The only negative was a large number of cuts, especially in the music for Bertarido.

The usurper's dumped ex-fiance Eduige isn't exactly a complex character and American contralto Avery Amereau made a decent attempt to inject a Lady Macbeth malevolence into the role. There was fire in the recitatives with Garibaldo although diction was mushy. "Lo farò, dirò spietato" had smooth roulades with some Resnik-esque low A-natural chest notes on "cor". "De' miei scherni per far vendetta" had more punch with some solid D-naturals and feisty B-flats. A bravura cadenza brought the tirade to a powerful close. "Quanto più fiera tempesta freme" had puissance and rhythmic bite although the contrasting "Già lusinghiera, per mio conforto" section was closer to forte than the correct piano.

Bertarido's loyal friend Unulfo was given an almost buffo interpretation by rising-star countertenor Jakub Jósef Orliński. Although 27, the acclaimed Polish singer could pass for 17, thus fitting effortlessly into the kiddie-concept staging. "Sono i colpi della sorte" was a tour de force with Orliński's easily identifiable voice color excelling in the lengthy semiquaver roulades and chest notes. The fruity D naturals were particularly potent.

"Fra tempeste funeste a quest'alma" closed the first half with dazzling show-stopping coloratura pyrotechnics. The low chest notes on "bella" were vintage Horne and the aria rightly received the loudest applause of the evening.

Unulfo's later aria "Un zeffiro spirò che serenò quest'alma" with its almost dyspeptic syncopation and chuckling bassoon obbligato was hardly redolent of gentle zyphers, but Orliński not only excelled in the crisp rhythms and plumy mid-voice C naturals but was visually entertaining with some nifty dance steps testifying to his real-life expertise as a break-dancer.

Athough occasionally tending to slide upwards to the higher tessitura, Orliński has a formidable vocal technique and commendable commitment to the nuances of the text. The mid-range is wonderfully modulated and tonalties around D-natural really impressive. In all respects, a great performance.

In Corneille's drama "Pertharite, roi des Lombards", Grimoaldo was clearly the homme méchant, but Handel makes his henchman Garibaldo the ultimate cad and bounder. Andrea Mastroni had lots of fog-horny low notes but focus was fuzzy and characterization of the duplicitous duca mono-dimensional.

Revealing his true feelings for Eduige in "Di Cupido impiego i vanni" Mastroni's intonation left a lot to be desired and the roulades and cadenzas were cumbrous. The important recitative with Rodelinda in the graveyard scene was unconvincing. The cynical realpolitik views in "Tirannia gli diede il regno" were ruthlessly expressed but vocally less than optimal. For a native-born Italian, Mastroni's diction was far from exemplary and the dramatic recitative when Garibaldo is about to kill the sleeping Grimoaldo was disappointingly drab.

The role of Grimoaldo is dramaturgically ambiguous and English tenor Benjamin Hulett veered towards the power-grabber's more agreeable side. "Io già t'amai, ritrosa" was almost endearingly Tamino-like in its lyricism and the roulades on "sdegnasti" were elegantly executed.

Regrettably "Se per te giungo a godere" was cut, which meant that Grimoaldo doesn't guarantee Garibaldo his protection. "Che vedete, occhi miei!" was blandly offhand and "Tuo drudo è mio rivale" closer to Snidely Whiplash than de Torquemada.

The scene when Grimoaldo interrupts the tender reunion between Rodelinda and Bertarido was more of a Feydeau farce with the characters scampering through multiple doors and hiding behind the furniture. The remorseful "Fatto inferno è il mio petto" was convincingly articulated and the contrasting larghetto leading to "Pastorello d'un povero armento" movingly phrased. The lilting 12/8 aria itself was similarly seductive with some gentle word colouring on "contento". The da capo had tasteful trilling even if several upper register notes were not exactly pristine.

Bertarido has some of the most beautiful music in Handel's score and Tim Mead's honeyed countertenor timbre was ideal for the lyricism of the role. Although his first disguised appearance didn't look particularly Hungarian, there was greater verisimilitude musically.

The accompanied recitative "Pompe vane di morte!" was sensitively articulated and following "Dove sei, amato bene!" with extended fermata on "Dove" beautifully phrased with delicate vibrato-less ornamentation on "consolar" in the da capo. The stately "Io t'abbraccio e più che morte" duet with Rodelinda was one of the musical highpoints of the evening. The entwining melodic lines with macarto string accompaniment was Handelian vocal elegance at its apogee. "Chi di voi fu più infedele" was sung from inside an over-lit prison-bar box with little semblance to a "carcere oscurissima". Vocally this was another tour-de-force for the former King's College Cambridge choral scholar who relished the low tessitura with come splendid C-naturals.

Curiously "Con rauco mormorio" was a bit plodding and not exactly "luongo delizioso" as scored. "Scacciata dal suo nido" was cut thus depriving the audience of enjoying Haym's ornithological erudition. Similarly regrettable was that the rousing "Se fiera belva ha cinto" aria and preceding recitative with Unulfo were also deleted. By contrast, "Vivi tiranno! Io t'ho scampato" gave Mead the chance for an impressive display of bravura vocalism although his real strength is in the long legato lyric line rather than fizz and fireworks.

At the outset, the ostensibly widowed Rodelinda isn't having a very jolly time at all, and "Hò perdutoil caro sposo" has all the angst of Orfeo lamenting Euridice. Trinidad-born soprano Jeanine De Bique displayed a suitably doleful timbre and admirable breath control but the voice had more metal than melancholy. The following Abigaille-ish "L'empio rigor del fato" was marred by uneven semi-quaver scales and roulades and the tempo change to adagio on "se misera mi fè" was ignored.

"Ombre, piante, urne funeste!" continued the mournful mood but this time there were some deliciously light floaty top G-naturals with a Pamina-ish cantilena. There was more venom in "Morrai sì, l'empia tua testa" with an exciting cadenza before "trono". Similarly "Spietati, io vi giurai" showed that this Lombardian widow was far from merry, despite the chirpy oboe obbligato. When wrongly believing her husband to be dead for a second time, "Se'l mio duol non è si forte" had some poignant sustained E-flats assisted in no small measure by sensitive flûtes à bec. An interpolated top A-flat fermata in the da capo was impressive without losing musical integrity.

De Bique's diction throughout was never more than proximate with the recitatives being particularly unsatisfactory. Despite a melting smile, dramatically things were less than Bernhardt-esque and De Bique's squeal when Flavio is temporarily abducted by Garibaldo was more titter than trauma.

Haïm took the concluding "Dopo la notte oscura più lucido" chorus at a rollicking Rossinian pace which made the heavy rallentando on "il sol quaggiù" even more effective. All is forgiven and like "tutti a festeggiar!" Bertarido orders that "great rejoicings reach to the last limits of our kingdom".

Apart from the executed Garibaldo, everyone else enthusiastically joins the jubilation. Finally, the IMAX projections of Flavio could be dispensed with but there was still a lingering feeling that this munchkin-focused doll's house mis-en-scène was more kiddie jumping castle than angst-filled Ibsen.

Back to Feydeau or Marcel Marceau for Monsieur Bellorini.

Source: Jonathan Sutherland (

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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Rodelinda, HWV 19 (1725)

Opera in three acts

Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym (1678-1729) and Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)

Rodelinda..........Jeanine De Bique, soprano
Bertarido..........Tim Mead, countertenor
Grimoaldo..........Benjamin Hulett, tenor
Eduige..........Avery Amereau, contralto
Unolfo..........Jakub Józef Orliński, countertenor
Garibaldo..........Andrea Mastroni, bass
Flavio (the child)..........Aminata Diouaré

Le Concert d'Astrée
Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm

Stage Director: Jean Bellorini
Stage Designer: Jean Bellorini, Véronique Chazal
Lighting: Jean Bellorini, Luc Muscillo
Costume Designer: Macha Makeïeff
Make-up and hairstyling: Cécile Kretschmar

Direction by Anthony Toulotte
Produced by Olivier Simonnet

Opéra de Lille, October 2018

(HD 1080p)


Act I

The opera opens with Rodelinda's lament for Bertarido, the husband she believes to be dead. "Ho perduto il caro sposo", she sings, voicing the tragedy that is the central fact of her life as she sits alone and weeping in the palace. Though Rodelinda will pass through grief, misery and fury, her fidelity to Bertarido's memory is inflexible and defines her every action until their joyous reunion.

She is disturbed by the arrival of Grimoaldo, the usurper of her husband's throne, who declares both his love and his desire to marry her. Garibaldo, his henchman, arrives, and suggests that his patron free himself of the woman he once promised to marry, Eduige, who complicates the plot by also being Bertarido's sister. But Garibaldo – falsely, since he is a villain – protests his love to Eduige, believing she will help him attain the throne, to which she has a claim so long as Rodelinda's son, Flavio, is still a minor.

A disguised Bertarido appears at his own tomb and reads the inscription. He reflects upon the hollow splendour of man's ambitions in a long accompanied recitative, "Pompe vane". Longing for Rodelinda, he sings the meltingly beautiful aria "Dove sei", declaring that only in her presence can he find consolation for his sorrow.

Unulfo appears but is unable to comfort his friend, the devastated Bertarido. They hide when they hear Rodelinda approach the tomb and give voice to her misery in the aria "Ombre, piante", then are forced to listen to Garibaldo threaten her: either she marries Grimoaldo or Flavio will die. She agrees to the union but vows that her first request as queen will be the head of Garibaldo, the Iago-like counsellor of Grimoaldo. Her sober mournfulness now turns to something more passionate: "Morrai, sì" is a surprisingly sprightly hymn to future vengeance.

But it is not enough to persuade Bertarido of her fidelity when, from a hidden place, he hears her agree to marry his enemy Grimoaldo. Immediately certain of her infidelity, he launches into the bitter "Confusa si miri". He vows to appear to her when she is married.

Act II

The importunate Garibaldo is surprised at Eduige's consent to marry him since she has lost Grimoaldo. Meanwhile Rodelinda, tormented past bearing by his overtures, turns on Grimoaldo with a test of his own monstrosity and declares that she will marry him only if he will murder her son in front of her eyes (thus proving his absolute villainy). Unulfo urges him to refuse; Garibaldo urges him to accept. The distressed Grimoaldo hastens from the scene, leaving Garibaldo to plot his master's downfall.

Bertarido stands in "a pleasant landscape" and gives himself over to the pathetic fallacy: nature's sounds and sights mirror his own anguish. Eduige is reunited with her brother, astonished to find Bertarido alive and elated to hear that his sole aim is to save his wife and son (and not to reclaim the kingdom). Unulfo appears and assures Bertarido that his wife is in fact faithful to him, and both his heart and his aria turn joyful in "Scacciata dal suo nido".

Unulfo then goes to Rodelinda and assures her that her husband still lives and soon will return to her: "Ritorna, o caro" gives voice to her rhapsodic joy and longing. Bertarido seeks her out in the palace and kneels to beg her forgiveness for having doubted her constancy. They are no sooner united than discovered, as Grimoaldo arrives.

To save Rodelinda's reputation, Bertarido reveals that he is her husband, but, in order to protect him, she denies this. Grimoaldo, uninterested in the man's identity, condemns him to prison and certain death. The last the loving couple believe they will know of one another are the final moments of "Io t'abbraccio".


Eduige gives Unulfo a key to rescue the imprisoned Bertarido while Garibaldo, bad to the very end, urges Grimoaldo to kill him. In a dungeon, Bertarido reflects upon his fate in "Chi di voi", the music as restless as his spirit. His lament is interrupted by both a sword dropped down to him by Eduige and the arrival of Unulfo with the key: mistaking his friend for the executioner, Bertarido stabs and wounds him. No sooner has he realized his mistake than distant voices force them to flee. They leave behind a bloody cloak, which the arriving Rodelinda takes to be that of her husband. Certain that he is dead, she lapses into re-doubled grief in "Se'l mio duol", begging God to strike a dagger through her heart.

Grimoaldo takes an honest look at the beast he has become, longs for a shepherd's simple life and seeks escape in sleep. Garibaldo, discovering him, tries to kill him but is prevented by Bertarido: too noble to allow his enemy Grimoaldo to fall victim to treachery, Bertarido drives Garibaldo off and kills him.

The waking Grimoaldo is confronted by his enemy's declaration (in one of Handel's greatest stand-and-deliver arias, "Vivi, tiranno"), witnessed by the entering Rodelinda, that Bertarido has spared him and saved his life. Proof of such clemency moves Grimoaldo to repentance: he gives Bertarido his wife, his son and his throne, and the royal lovers are reunited to general rejoicing.

Source: Donna Leon (Deutsche Grammophon)

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