strange things are afoot at the circle k

Bogus. Heinous. Most non-triumphant. Ah, Ted, don’t be dead, dude. – Bill S. Preston, Esq.

Last night was the first of our classical series concerts for this weekend. It’s a great program, one that everyone in the orchestra is pretty stoked about. Rehearsals had gone well, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Of course, this should have rung warning bells in everyone’s heads immediately.

Everything in the Mozart Serenade “Posthorn” seemed to be a bit off kilter. Not bad, but not great, either. There were some interesting moments in each of the minuets (always mentally difficult to navigate, especially when there are two of them, one of which starts with an upbeat, the other which does not, as is the case in this Serenade), and some truly interesting moments revolving around which pitch level the orchestra actually tunes and plays to – part of the orchestra voting for A=440, the other for A=445. In spite of this, however, it was wonderful to have to apply one’s concentration over such a span of time (45 minutes) to such wonderful music. The winds truly own the day in this piece, and special recognition must go to the principal winds – Jessica Sindell, flute; Martin Hebert, oboe; and Carin Miller, bassoon; for their many beautiful solo contributions.

The second half seemed to go a bit better, but it’s an exhausting half to play, since we joined the Strauss Death and Transfiguration and Four Last Songs without pause.

The D&T went well, with some spectacular playing by the winds and brass (and the strings – ok, we all played pretty well). In particular, the last wind chord was phenomenal – perfectly balanced and voiced, and absolutely in tune, like a giant, and incredibly soft, pipe organ chord.

Soprano Amber Wagner was tremendous in the songs, with ample power and sensitivity that produced chills down my spine. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak provided her own subtle fireworks with her two gorgeous solos in the Bein Schlafengehen and Im Abendrot songs. As one colleague noted “her solos are always sick”.

recordings for this week’s concert

While I’m not a reviewer of recordings, I do have some recordings that I do especially like. This week’s program of works by Mozart and Richard Strauss is one of my favorite of this season, and so I want to share some of my favorite recordings of the week’s program with you.

A short and sweet list of my favorites, with links to purchase at arkivemusic.com (for physical cd’s), and at amazon.com (for mp3’s).

Strauss: Four Last Songs

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Felicity Lott, soprano; Neeme Järvi conducting the Scottish National Orchestra (Chandos 10075).

The recording that started it all for me. This particular album includes most of the other songs for soprano and orchestra in addition to the Four Last Songs. Highly recommended.

Strauss: Death & Transfiguration

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Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 410892)

This is an incredible recording of both orchestral virtuosity and compelling musicality. Worth it for the searing recording of Metamorphosen alone, but having D&T as a coupling makes for a fabulous disc.

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If you’re interested in a Karajan/Berlin set of all the Strauss orchestral works, there is an excellent budget-priced set from DG that looks excellent at the price of $32.99 for five cd’s ($24.99 on Amazon).

Mozart: Serenade No. 9 in D major, K. 320

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Claudio Abaddo and the Berlin Philharmonic (Sony 48385)

A nice marrying of historical performance influences with modern instruments.

If you prefer a more historically-informed version on period instruments, then this looks like a good bet:

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Roger Norrington and the Stuttgardt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Hänssler Classic 93213)

notes for the end

This week we tackle two of my favorite pieces for orchestra ever written. Both are by Richard Strauss. They are his tone poem Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung), and his Four Last Songs. I wrote the program notes for the performances, but they had to be cut a bit due to space issues. Here are the complete and uncut notes: Continue reading “notes for the end”