Saturday, September 22, 2007

Improbable combination of 2007?

Can Christian Thielemann really work with Katharina Wagner? He seems to think so.

I am taking a break from my sort-of-almost-interesting-to-classicists work on Tacitus' Annales and the SC de Cn. Pisone patre and I saw that item on AC Douglas' blog. Frankly, I wish that I kept working on the conflict between Germanicus and Gnaeus Piso in Syria.

Perhaps they're trying to resurrect the successful combination of Wieland Wagner and conductors like Hans Knappertsbusch, Joseph Keilberth, and Clemens Krauss; of course, Fraulein Wagner is no Wieland Wagner, and Herr Thielemann is no Hans Knappertsbusch. The Schlingensief-Boulez Parsifal of several years back, now, makes more sense as a collaboration - to say nothing of the 1976 Ring. This puts me more in mind of the Harry Kupfer-Daniel Barenboim Ring of the early 1990s. A talented Wagner conductor paired off with a borderline-idiot director.

More and more, I am of two minds. If the Bayreuth board really wants to have a sixth Wagner run the Festspiele, then it needs to be Eva Wagner-Pasquier. Nike has pretty well boxed herself into a corner with some profoundly misguided ideas. Katharina can have it when Eva is finished. Based on what I have seen of the new Meistersinger, Katharina would have a hard time getting elected artistic director of the Indianapolis Opera, to say nothing of Bayreuth. If they come to their senses and realize that no one since Wieland Wagner has had the artistic brilliance to have the premier venue for the works of Richard Wagner under his aegis, then they just need to wait Wolfgang out and elect someone more consonant with the requirements of Bayreuth.

Why Thielemann would cast his lot with Katharina Wagner is beyond me. He seems to be backing a winner, as Wolfgang won't retire until Katharina is guaranteed the Festspielleiter position. I get the impression, though, that the Bayreuth board is not entirely happy with this situation. If I had to bet, I would say that Katharina will have competition. Thielemann could just sign some contracts now and have an assured position in the pit for as long as he can convince Wolfgang to allow him.

You watch: I predict that this mess will lead to a major reorganization of how Bayreuth is governed and how its leadership is selected.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Another Hammerklavier...

It is not a bad time to like Beethoven's piano sonatas. András Schiff is in the middle of his cycle, Paul Lewis has put out a couple sets, and now Mitsuko Uchida has joined the game. Her 2006 set of the last three sonatas, opp. 109, 110, and 111, was pretty darned good. Her new disc, opp. 101 and 106, continues the cycle. I'll say this now, I really hope that she isn't backing in to a complete set. Frankly, starting at the end doesn't do much justice to the stylistic and technical changes that Beethoven made. It is nice to see a progression from the Pathetique to the Waldstein to the Hammerklavier to op.111. That's a minor gripe, and I suppose you don't have to listen to the discs in order of recording.

Uchida's Hammerklavier is very nice indeed, though I think that she approaches the sonata in a fairly traditional way. Indeed, of the recordings I have and listen to, she puts me in mind (mind you, for the first few notes) of no one more than Glenn Gould. That might seem like high praise until you remember that Gould wasn't fond of the Hammerklavier and dithered around before finally doing a radio performance. I don't want to call the style awkward, but there is a mannered reticence to Uchida's (and Gould's) approach. It mostly centers around the low A right before the B-flat major chords. Gilels, among others, didn't see the need to articulate it terribly clearly. They seem to want to maintain fidelity to the score and a precise articulation, which slows that down a little bit. François-Frédéric Guy, on Naïve, by contrast slams through that opening passage.

Uchida, too, is consonant with Gould in the timing of the Adagio. There are, necessarily, some differences in style, but - broadly speaking - they approach the piece broadly. I think that one must be careful, especially with a piece like the Hammerklavier, to avoid falling into echt-Romantic schmaltz. Drawing the Adagio out, to my mind, does sort of bring us close to that sort of showy, candelabra Beethoven: that is, not a conclusion earnestly to be desired. Uchida and Gould both shine, with their senses of counterpoint and vocal/rhythmic articulation, though Gould was the unquestioned master, in the great fugue of the fourth section. Coming out of the Adagio, the fugue is all the more interesting and brilliant. Indeed, I might assert that the Hammerklavier becomes Beethoven's greatest piano sonata based on the fourth movement. I am, though, often partial to the Waldstein sonata.

This is a valuable contribution to the recorded literature, so to speak, on the Hammerklavier. I am still partial to Paul Lewis' set on Harmonia Mundi, but Uchida makes a nice case for her interpretation. Her style is relatively agreeable, even if I find myself wishing Glenn Gould had liked this sonata more, or that the Decca set of Wilhelm Backhaus' complete Beethoven sonatas were more readily available. This is not a first choice: for that Gilels is the best option, but it should make it into the buying rotation sooner or later. It will be, then, all the better if Uchida completes her cycle. She doesn't always get it perfect, but she makes a case all the same.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti: 1935-2007

Just a month shy of his 72nd birthday, Luciano Pavarotti is dead. Lux aeterna luceat eis.

Jane Eaglen has a touching and warm obituary at Slate. Alex, at Wellsung, has a similarly personal remembrance, though not quite as personal as Ms. Eaglen's.

What will we do when all the big stars with voices to match are gone? I'd go so far as to ask, what are we going to do when all the great voices are gone?

James King, Birgit Nilsson, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and the rest have all taken their places in the choir eternal.

We still have their records, which might be the best testament of all. I've been listening, off and on, to Pavarotti's "Ingemisco" from that wild Solti recording of Verdi's Requiem with the Wiener Philharmoniker. (Decca, 1968) A glorious respite in the middle of a typhoon.