Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Karl Böhm's Clemency

Karl Böhm is one of those conductors that is famous-enough, but always manages to stay solidly in the shadow of another. For him, Herbert von Karajan was the German conductor of the post-war period. Wilhelm Furtwängler lived until 1954, and - his powers largely undiminished if his spirit was broken - endured the ascendancy of Von Karajan. On the other hand, Böhm did his thing, turning in some fantastic recordings, quietly. His Bayreuth recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen is second only to Solti for modern recordings. His Die Walküre may be the finest account ever rendered (though Boulez' own Bayreuth reading is a close second). His Tristan und Isolde has been the default stereo set since it was released.

However, his Mozart was his specialty. His Die Zauberflöte is a reference recording. His other operas are similarly fantastic. The opera I am discovering, through Böhm, is La clemenza di Tito. His 1979 set has Peter Schreier and Teresa Berganza. Schreier is my favorite tenor (because of, not despite, his cerebral bearing), and Berganza's Carmen under Abbado is my gold standard. Böhm keeps things flowing nicely and he shows his prudent judgment and deft sensitivity. The opera is a sleeper: late-stage Mozart, with all the charm and intelligence of that period. It isn't Le nozze, but neither is Zauberflöte. The plot is suitably complicated. The music is rich and grand. This is Mozart as he should be, not some sort of soundtrack for a Salzburg marzipan box.

Böhm is the sort of conductor that can take a second-tier score and turn it into what it is. He does this here.

Celibidache's Bruckner

Sergiu Celibidache is a divisive figure. On one hand, there are those that feel that he was a lucky fraud - spouting insane nonsense about music and stretching his tempi to the point where every movement was a slow movement. On the other, some think that he was one of the greatest conductors of all time. After all, this was the man who succeeded Wilhelm Furtwängler, during his excruciating de-Nazification.

Celibidache, insofar as he can be said to have had a specialty, was a Brucknerian. There are two competing "cycles." EMI and DGG both have his "recorded" output. Deutsche Grammophon has his earlier work and EMI has stuff from his Indian summer in Munich. One must remember, though, that he hated recordings more than Furtwängler. He felt that it was impossible to capture music on tape and have it retain any of its essence. His children, though, have wisely decided to allow some recordings to be released.

Of the EMI outings, his Bruckner 4th is considered one of the finest readings ever given to this score. He has Klemperer, Von Karajan, and Böhm to compete with, though. Celibidache has far more in common with Klemperer, at first blush, than with the younger conductors. They both run about ten minutes longer and they both favor broader tempi. However, where Klemperer fashioned monumental recordings out of a single block of granite, Celibidache seems to build them brick by brick.

Celibidache allows for the slow to be slow and the fast to be fast. The contrast between the end of the Andante quasi Allegretto and the Scherzo is clear and illuminating to say the least. Can he be broad? Absolutely. Can he be brisk? Certainly. At least in the 4th, he modulates his tempi with skill and precision. Is this one of the great ones? Yes. It is everything really great about Bruckner. The grandiosity is balanced by quiet spirituality. Celibidache builds a cathedral of sound, and it works. He might not succeed elsewhere, but he comes off brilliantly in the 4th.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Static fixation

A.C. Douglas has a series of posts about a new Ring production that might have a "static choreography." This one has his feelings on the matter. Meh.

I still like the Bayreuth centennial production. Sorry, A.C.

Vill I enjoy it? Probably.

We're back. That's all I am going to say.

This post from Alex Ross has the funniest commercial spoof I have heard in a long, long time. K-Tel meets the Second Viennese School. Surreal comedy at its surreal best.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The Penitent Wagnerite will not be posting for a few days to remember a friend that died this morning.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Homeroom Bell Rings

Alex Ross, among others, presents this concept for a Ring production. I sort-of half-like it. Seeing the twilight of the gods as a twilight of the smart set would give me great pleasure.

Götterdämmerung a la John Hughes sounds interesting and amusing, but is - ultimately - the dumbest thing I have ever heard. If a Marxist-Industrial Revolution Ring and Harry Kupfer's Star Wars productions were vile, Eurotrash Regietheater, then a Sixteen Candles Ring is just as bad. Listen, I like Regietheater, but I loath logical inconsistency. If staying true to Wagner's concept is important, than the Valkyries bobbysoxing it up and replacing "Ho-jo-to-ho!" with Toni Basil's "Mickey" is a disgusting, execrable idea.

Minimalism, brutalism, modernism. That is timeless theater. This ain't, much as I am amused.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I like Aida

I am not all that big of a Verdi fan. His Requiem (Von Karajan's recording at the Salzburg Festival) is OK, but I prefer Mozart/Süssmayr's score. Il trovatore has three or four big moments, and - beyond that - I am not all that hyped-up over it. I have the Von Karajan/Callas/La Scala EMI recording, if that matters.

However, I like Aida. My recording of choice, as pictured above, is the Muti recording with Caballé and Domingo. As far as grand opera goes, it doesn't get much grander than this. I am not a big fan of Riccardo Muti, largely because of his "tenure" at La Scala. However, his conducting seems spot on, so to speak.

The plot is OK, I guess. However, one doesn't listen to grand opera because it has glorious plotlines. Montserrat Caballé really does make this recording, though. Her rather expansive voice is a good counterpart for Domingo. They sound both heroic and tragic. I don't have quite as much to say as I would for a Wagner opera for two reasons:

1. Verdi doesn't trade in the metaphysical. He trades in those most "interesting" things: emotion and style.

2. I don't moon over singers. Singers are nice, but the real stars of any production are the orchestration and stage design. I could get into why, but I'll just say that I prefer the work of the composer and designer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Keilberth Ring coming

The 1955 Bayreuth Ring, recorded by Decca, is coming out on Testament. Apparently, Culshaw nixed this one, since the Solti set was in the works. I will buy this one, as it has a fantastic cast and Keilberth was no slouch.

It will be expensive as all get-out, like all Testament releases, but I think it will be worth it. From what I gather, this has sort of lurked around in the mists of Wagner recordings as a might-have-been. There was a magic to Bayreuth from 1951-1976, and I think that the energy of the reconstituted Festspiele adds something to the recordings. I mark the line between good new Bayreuth and the drecky, body-casting "Wolfgang Wagner presents Bayreuth" as the Kupfer cycle. Chereau might have been Eurotrash (ask A.C. Douglas, he will tell you), but it wasn't Harry Kupfer's Star Wars on the Green Hill.

I digress.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Così enough for you?

Wellsung is back. That's nice.

The new post concerns Karl Böhm's recording of Così fan tutte; in the interest of full disclosure, I don't really like this one. For whatever reason, I fixated on Le nozze di Figaro and Die Zauberflöte. It's a choice. Whatever.

However, among recordings of Così fan tutte, I (oddly enough) prefer Herbert von Karajan's version. It is early enough in his career (EMI/Philharmonia) that he was still good, and it has a swell cast. Karl Böhm was perhaps the greatest Mozart interpreter of the 20th century, so his recording has a good pedigree, but Von Karajan just has something extra.

I don't know where this is going, other than expressing my preference for Von Karajan's Così fan tutte. Also, check out the Wellsung post. They gave me a link. I do love publicity; I was going to say "exposure," but decided to take the high road.

Monday, February 06, 2006

O Glaube, Mein Herz!

Deutsche Grammophon will be releasing Pierre Boulez's recording of the Mahler 2nd in May. If this is as good as I hope, then this summer will be glorious.

New Link

"I mean, you just can't get away with 'flaming' and 'queen' together at the opera without everyone getting a horrible case of the giggles."

Let's all welcome My Favorite Intermissions to the links bar. Funny. Unlike this blog.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Te Deum!

My copy of the obscure and fantastic Von Karajan recording of Bruckner's Te Deum came this week. It was recorded at the 1960 Salzburger Festspiele, and has the best cast of any Te Deum out there: Leontyne Price, Hildegard Rössl-Majdan, Fritz Wunderlich, and Walter Berry. I bought it for two reasons (three if you count my Bruckner addiction): Wunderlich[!] and it is Von Karajan when he was still good.

I list three major periods in Von Karajan's career: Nazi-approved Furtwängler replacement (1933-1945), brilliant conductor with a good sense of style (1946-1975), and shine-obsessed technician (1975-1989). His early recordings (I am thinking of Die Zauberflöte and his other EMI Mozart sets) are really quite fantastic. Throughout his career, he had some first-rate discs. However, his insistence on a shimmering, "perfect" sound damaged some discs. His orchestral obsession ruined his DG Der Ring des Nibelungen.

However, this Te Deum is nearly perfect. Jochum and Barenboim, the only major competition, are very good. Just not as good.