Monday, November 13, 2006

Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Martinu, Thomson And Others

While preparing for our journey this past weekend, Joshua and I listened to six discs, and we will keep them on the disc player until we leave for Germany on Thursday.

Five Centuries Of The Spanish Guitar, performed by Andres Segovia, on the MCA label

Beethoven Violin Sonatas, performed by Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler, on the Philips label

Mendelssohn Organ Sonatas, performed by Stephen Tharp, on the Naxos label

String Sextets by Dvorak and Martinu, performed by the Academy Of St. Martin-In-The-Fields Chamber Ensemble, on the Chandos label

Film Music by Virgil Thomson, performed by the New London Orchestra under Ronald Corp, on the Hyperion label

"Love Songs", a song recital performed by Arleen Auger and Dalton Baldwin, on the Delos label

I have always loved Spanish guitar music, and the Segovia disc makes perfect late-night listening. The Beethoven disc features the "Spring" and "Kreutzer" sonatas, as well as the very early Opus 12, Number 2.

The Mendelssohn disc, one of those typical Naxos discs music lovers pick up and sample, out of sheer curiosity, because Naxos discs are so cheap, was a very pleasant surprise. These six sonatas, all very late works of Mendelssohn, are new to my ears but they strike me as masterpieces of the organ-sonata repertory. I like them more each time I hear them. The organist is unknown to me; the recording was taped at a church in Chicago.

The performances on the Dvorak/Martinu disc strike me as a trifle bland, but these works are a joy to listen to. Why is Martinu so seldom performed in the U.S.? I have liked every composition by Martinu, in every form, that I have ever heard.

Music of Virgil Thomson never seems to attract any performances in the U.S., either, and that is a shame. His music is very well-crafted, and very approachable, and it often has a deceptively-simple surface that belies its sophistication. This disc includes the suite from "The Plow That Broke The Plains" and both suites of music from "Louisiana Story". It also includes a composition new to me, "Fugues And Cantilenas" from the documentary "Power Among Men", that is a marvelous piece of music. It makes me want to see the film.

I don't particularly care for Miss Auger's disc, which almost makes me feel bad. She was such a wonderful singer--perhaps the greatest singer America ever produced--and I very much want to like this disc, but I find that I do not respond to most of the songs on this recital album, many of which strike me as mere ditties. There is one Schubert song, one Schumann, one Mahler, one Richard Strauss, and they are joined by a number of very unremarkable efforts by the likes of Charles Gounod, Roger Quilter, Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten--and Noel Coward! There is even a number from Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot": "Before I Gaze At You Again", which actually DOES work as an art song, at least in Miss Auger's handling of it. All in all, however, this recital amounts to very little, and the order of the songs on the album strikes me as random if not bizarre. Shuffling the order of the songs does not improve things, either. To use Josh's summation, this recital is "pretty humdrum".

I never heard Miss Auger, as she died in the summer of 1993, when I was only twelve years old. Music lovers were doubly stricken that year, as both Arleen Auger and Lucia Popp died within a couple of months of each other. There are numerous parallels between the two sopranos: both were the same age; both died of brain cancer at the same time; both were intellectuals; both were married to intellectuals; and both had their first important engagements in the same role in the same opera in the same theater (The Queen Of The Night in "The Magic Flute" at the Wiener Staatsoper). Why were these two great singers called home so early, when they both had so much more to give? Were they not the two finest and most enchanting singers alive at the time of their passing?

My parents heard Miss Auger in the theater on one occasion: singing Marzelline in "Fidelio" at the Metropolitan Opera in the late 1970's. My parents heard Miss Popp in the theater on one occasion: singing Marzelline in "Fidelio" at the Wiener Staatsoper in the late 1970's.

My parents heard Miss Auger in recital on two occasions. The first time they heard her, she performed several Schubert songs and several Wolf songs. The second time they heard her, she performed several Mozart songs and several French songs (Mahler was on the printed program, but Miss Auger announced from the concert platform that she would sing Mozart songs instead of the Mahler group). During one of her encores at the second recital, Miss Auger "threw" her voice, ventriloquist-style, which startled and amazed the audience (and the audience erupted in cheers after that encore). I wish I could have attended that recital, but I was only seven or eight years old at the time.

Miss Auger made so many, many great recordings that she can easily be forgiven the unworthy material too much on offer on "Love Songs".

No comments:

Post a Comment