Kathleen Ferrier Remembered – SOMM

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts  of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are “new”, not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall.  Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Bruno Walter accompanies Ferrier in two Schubert and two Brahms songs.  Walter was a major influence on Ferrier, developing her style and repertoire and bring her to international prominence.  Reputedly, she was so overcome rehearsing for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde that she wept inconsolably.  Perhaps it was that emotional directness that Walter recognized  that convinced him that the relatively unknown young singer had potential.  In these songs, recorded in the Edinburgh studios of the BBC, Ferrier’s sincerity shines, though her delivery is more enthusiastic than refined.  But that was part of her charm. Walter responds in kind, his playing particularly free and invigorating.

Ferrier’s recordings of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder are classics, but on this disc, she sings Urlicht, from Mahler’s Symphony no 2.  This recording was made on 28th September 1950.  The following year,  Ferrier sang the part with full orchestra  in the recording of the symphony with Otto Klemperer and Jo Vincent in Amsterdam.  Here she sings the version for piano and voice, so the closer focus concentrates attention on the voice and its distinctive colouring.  Her vibrato is used to evoke fragility, in keeping with the nature of the piece.  A worthwhile addition to the discography, since she didn’t record this version for Decca. 

Apart from one track on this disc – C Hubert Parry’s Love is a bable op 152/3 with Gerald Moore –  all the other selections feature Ferrier with Frederick Stone.  Ferrier sang a lot of Schubert and Wolf,  her contralto richness is most effective in Brahms.  Her Sonntag op 47/3 here, recorded in December 1949, is particularly impressive. Although Ferrier found fame, she was, at heart, down-to-earth and unaffected, rather like the “Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein” standing by her doorway, innocently capturing hearts.  For this reason, perhaps, Ferrier is often most endearing when she sings traditional songs in the English language.  This remastering makes Parry’s Love is a Bable bright and shiny!

On this SOMM disc, we have Edmund Rubbra’s Three Psalms op 61, which Ferrier recorded for Decca with Ernest Lush, in performance with Frederick Stone, from 1947.  The piano settings are minimal, displaying the voice unadorned, suggesting private prayer.  In Psalm 150, Rubbra writes extravagant lines, which let Ferrier’s voice fly exuberantly free. SOMM has also uncovered a special rarity: Maurice Jacobson’s Song of Songs, quite probably the original recording, which has lain in the BBC sound archives long known but hitherto unreleased. The text comes from the Book of Solomon, and the setting makes clear reference to Jewish tradition. 

Original Source: Kathleen Ferrier Remembered – SOMM

Two-timing scale practice

I appreciate two-timing piano students who practice their scales with acutely sensitive ears. They are made keenly aware of what it takes to repeat a faulty step-wise sequence that’s been thrown out of rhythmic alignment along a 4-octave route. (Auditory memory is a vital ingredient through repetitions that require retrieval of a basic underlying pulse.)

In a journey from 8ths to 16ths to 32nds, many pupils will underestimate the end game tempo, losing technical control in the final spill. To avoid a pile-up in the speed zone, they will put on the breaks, losing their initial framing beat. Ironically, a good proportion of two-timers who find themselves in such a jam will “think” they’ve doubled-up in the 32nds range, only to discover by a teacher’s real-time demonstration, that 16ths to 32nds were out of synch. (A metronome can be just has helpful in clarifying rhythmic disparities.)

Ways to deal with rhythmic disorientation

I prompt students to back up by “half” from what they can realistically manage in 32nds. After a few retrograde repetitions in this practicing mode, they can revisit 8ths and then move forward again in doubled sequence. In most cases, a pupil comes to grips with what he can safely control at the peak scale build-up, knowing that the underlying pulse will increase in developmental stages.

A recent lesson sample illustrated rhythmic disproportion and remedy. (It’s excerpted at the juncture where a student zoned in on 16ths to 32nds in a D-sharp minor Harmonic form scale) A brief second segment focused on a “rolling into” effort in a more fast-paced staccato-rendered scale in Melodic form. It was a confidence-building effort that represented a “rite of passage” for this pupil who realized that she could, in fact, play brisker 32nd notes without faltering. Breathing, pacing, mindfulness, and lack of PANIC all kick into controlled, peak playings.

Original Source: Two-timing scale practice

Elgar, Bliss The Beatitudes Andrew Davis BBCSO Barbican

At the Barbican, London, Andrew Davis conducted the BBCSO in Elgar Enigma Variations and Arthur Bliss The Beatitudes.  A red letter day for British music fans, because Davis  is a superb conductor of British repertoire.  His insights into Bliss’s Beatitudes was thus eagerly anticipated. If anyone can make a case for the piece, it is he.  After an expansive performance of the Enigma Variations, I was expecting great things.  The Beatitudes is an ambitious work,  scored for large orchestra, soloists, choir and cathedral-scale organ, so an expansive approach would, in theory, breathe life into the piece. The background to the piece and its reception have been repeated so  many times that you could fill an entire review regurgitating the details without having to mention too much about the music.  In short, The Beatitudes was commissioned for the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962 and given top billing over and above Britten’s War Requiem, the “other” commission.  For reasons still unexplained, it was discreetly shunted aside. The premiere took place in a nearby theatre and was not well received. 

Whatever may have happened in Coventry in 1962, it isn’t simply isn’t true that The Beatitudes was forgotten.  Shortly afterwards, it was performed in a proper Cathedral setting at Gloucester during the the Three Choirs Festival, which alone should have ensured its reputation. Paul Daniels conducted and the singing, being the Three Choirs Festival, must have been good.  Bliss conducted it himself at the Proms in 1964, another ultra high profile event, with no expense spared.  Bliss himself conducted the BBC SO, with the immortal Heather Harper, a host of choirs and of course the formidable Royal Albert Hall organ. This was commercially  released five years ago.  There have been other performances, including one at Coventry Cathedral a few years ago.   The piece isn’t a mystery waiting to be discovered.  Unfortunately,British music is schismatic. Many still can’t forgive Britten for being an outsider.  All the more reasons then to engage with The Beatitudes  on its own merits, rather than just blaming its lack of success on fashion and taste.  Sixty years later, we should be mature enough to evaluate the piece on its own terms without pettiness and special pleading.  Bliss is an important composer, who created masterpieces like Morning Heroes. Read more about that HERE when Andrew Davis conducted it with the BBCSO at the Barbican.    

Coventry Cathedral was bombed during the wear, so it’s rebuilding was a symbolic act of hope. Memories of the war were still fresh, so Britten was taking risks by not condemning Germans. But perhaps people then knew about war first hand, they realized that working towards peace is a much greater challenge.  The Beatitudes of Jesus, as recounted in the New Testament, address the basic concepts of Christianity. Tonight, the Pope reiterated these fundamentals at Fatima :  “Mercy, not judgement”.  Fundamentalists who misconstrue “Blessed are the poor”, maybe aren’t Christian.  Bliss’s Beatitudes presentstexts arranged by Christopher Hassell interspersed with settings of seven poems, from the  Prophet Isaiah to !7th century poets like George Herbert to Dylan Thomas. This allows him to expand the scope, making more of the idea of conflict implicit in the Ninth Beatitude, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you”, which could be interpreted as relevant to the idea of war though it in fact refers to persecution of the apostles and those faithful to a radical new faith.  Bliss connects the Sermon on the Mount to the Mount of Olives to Easter and to the Crucifixion.   Bliss’s Beatitudes are thus a mediation on struggle, illustrated by the strident, almost dissonant music in the Prelude and the Voices of the Mob.  Contrasts are violently dramatic. Loud tutti climaxes but tiny figures (often strings or woodwind) flit past. The soloists (Emily Birsan and Ben Johnson) rise from the massed forces behind them.  The ambience of a great epic saga, with a cast of thousands- what great film music this could have been ! 

Superb performances all round, good enough that it wasn’t such a loss that the Barbican organ isn’t as huge as, say, Coventry Cathedral, But in a way, I was glad that Davies focussed on the music itself, rather than going in for histrionic effects,  He’s conducted another Beatitudes – Elgar’s The Apostles.  That, too, was conceived on a grand scale with over a hundred chorister, many soloists and a big orchestra.  But perhaps the key to The Apostles (and to The Kingdom) lies in its connection to The Dream of Gerontius.which follows one man’s journey from physical life to the life everlasting. In The Apostles the followers of Jesus are about to go into the world, alone, spreading the new gospel in hostile situations.  Hence the inherent contradiction  between their mission, and overblown Edwardian public declarations of Christianity.  Elgar is a master of large form, but his faith, in a loose, non-denominational sense, is fundamentally personal and humanistic.  Not for nothing did he write te Enigma Variations, with its cryptic humour and deliberately non-dogmatic warmth of spirit.  Please read what I wrote about Davis’s Elgar Apostles with the BBC SO at the Barbican with Jacques Imbrailo in 2014.  Part of the reason The Apostles and The Kingdom aren’t programmed non-stop is because their charms lie not in bombast, but in humility.  Elgar doesn’t side with mobs,  even when the mobs support the good guys. 

Bliss’s competition wasn’t Britten, but Elgar, and Elgar wind hands down.  The Beatitudes have good moments but it’s no masterpiece. Jesus’s Beatitudes taught stress simplicity and the meekness which comes from genuine humility.  The apostles got their reward in heaven, but earned it.  No sense of entitlement, nor self pity, victimhood, or bitterness. Resentments  are values of self, not selflessness.  Tonight, the Pope who probably has more status than any of us, spoke of respect and compassion.  Though surrounded by thousands, with a big organization behind him,  he cut a frail, humble figure. Now there’s a man who knows what The Beatitudes of Jesus mean.

Original Source: Elgar, Bliss The Beatitudes Andrew Davis BBCSO Barbican

200 year old Bamboo organ, Las Piñas

The Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas now a suburb of Manila, built from 1816-1824 by Fr Diego Cera, the Spanish born parish priest.  This organ, built in late Spanish baroque style, has 1032 pipes.  For more technical detail, please follow this link to an analysis made by an organ specialist.  Good work !  Why bamboo ? Bamboo is a grass, which grows plentifully, yet it’s also very strong, and properly treated can be one of the most resilient natural fibres.  Many things are made from bamboo from ships to houses and furniture, and of course musical instruments like xylophone. Woven it makes ropes and semi waterproof mats. The shoots are edible, and a staple of many cuisines.  Plus bamboo has a hollow centre, ideal for making pipes.
This region of the Philippines is subject to earthquakes, typhoons, and floods.  The combination of candles and matshed roofing common in Catholic churches in Asia before the 19h century meant that many also burned down, like Sao Paolo in Macau.  Please read my article The Ruins of St Paul – Japanese baroque.   The church at Las Piñas is built of local stone, though the roof is lined with bamboo poles laid side by side.  In the 1880’s the building was hit by a series of natural disasters. 
 In 1975, the organ at last received a major restoration, each component shipped to Germany, repaired and reassembled, taking into consideration the warm, damp tropical climate it would return to. I can remember the fanfare which marked the organ’s return to Las Piñas. The Bamboo Organ is now par of the tourist trail, as well as being part of a large and thriving community. The sound is distinctive, and the church hosts an annual music festival which has attracted international players.  At one time I had a whole collection of recordings on cassette (remember them ?)  A few clips below to illustrate: 

Original Source: 200 year old Bamboo organ, Las Piñas

The Sea – F X Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Debussy Ravel Britten Chin and Trenet

On the ocean !  and François-Xavier Roth reveals more of his many talents. Livestream with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, combining Britten, Unsuk Chin, Ravel and Debussy La Mer and, with a glorious twist, the original 1946 Charles Trenet La Mer sung by Roth himself !  From Roth, always expect the unexpected.  Not many conductors would have the sass to do this, far less to sing it themselves, but Roth can, and did it with such style that the songb fitted perfectly well with the rest of the programme. Genre-blending with intelligence – no dumbing down here.

Benjamin Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes set the scene.  The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln doesn’t sound like an English orchestra, so it was a good experience hearing Britten in this way – sparkier, less buttoned down and stiff upper lip.  The timpani crashed, the church bells clanged, and the undercurrent in the tide motif pulled with a surge. Wild, dizzying angular lines : wonderfully quirky.  Englishman as Peter Grimes is, he is Everyman, his story universal.  This was “different” but perfectly valid, releasing the repressed “inner” Britten. This grows on you – enjoy the repeat broadcast.

Unsuk Chin’s Le Silence des Sirènes premiered in 2015 at Lucerne with Simon Rattle and Barbara Hannigan.  This time the soloist was Donatienne Michel-Dansac, who made the piece an expression of zany humour, very much in the whimsical spirit of Chin’s music. This also fits the edginess in James Joyce’s text.  Michel-Dansac’s voice calls, from a distance before she emerges on stage.  This Siren seduces by the sheer variety of what she sings. She mutters, whispers, sighs, compelling attention.  Long, high pitched ululations taunt the dissonant lines in the orchestra. When the Siren triumphs, her victim is dead.  Thus the hollow, sardonic laugh.

Another surprise – Ravel Une barque sur l’océan in its orchestral version, paired seamlessly with Debussy La Mer, which, incidentally was completed by Debussy when he was on holiday in Eastbourne in Sussex. Britten’s North Sea coastlines can be bleak, but Eastbourne is closer to the expansive Atlantic and to France.  Not that it really makes a difference, since the sea of Debussy’s imagination is an emotional, artistic response to the symbolism of the ocean – ever changing moods, depths, contrasts, driven by vast, invisible forces.  Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Kölnwere in their element : a very strong performance, and very rewarding. 

Pity about the presentation, though, which apes the hyper-hip vacuousness that plagues BBC Radio 3 these days.  The presenter herself seems a rational person, who could probably develop a more rational style, more in keeping with the quality of this orchestra.  .  

Original Source: The Sea – F X Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Debussy Ravel Britten Chin and Trenet

Matthias Goerne Schumann Einsamkeit

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi.  Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20’s is now formidably impressive.  The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.  If the breathiness that once made his style so immediate is gone, that’s more than made up for by the authority with which he now sings. In this recording, the lustre of the voice combines with  Goerne’s truly exceptional powers of interpretation : an ideal channel for a composer like Schumann, whose genius, surprisingly, is still underestimated.  Many of the songs in this collection come from the composer’s later years, sometimes unappreciated because the style changes, heading toward new pathways.  Schumann was well informed, aware of new currents in cultural life. Certainly he knew Wagner, but Wagner and Schumann were probably heading in different directions.

Goerne has been interested in late Schumann for many years, and sang many of these songs in his concert at the Wigmore Hall in 2015 with Menahem Pressler, where the songs were presented in the context of late Schumann piano pieces.  (Please read more about that here  because it is important to consider the songs in relation to the piano works so dear to Schumann’s soul). This recording, thus, is a must for anyone genuinely interested in Schumann beyond the “greatest hits” for it shows how Schumann remained a creative force, despite encroaching illness, an illness that might possibly be better understood today, which might have extended his creative years.

Nikolaus von Lenau

Schumann’s op 90, to poems by Nikolaus von Lenau, were written in August 1850.   Goerne and Hinterhäuser began with Mein Rose, the second song in the set, evoking the fragrance of love song which makes Dichterliebe an enduring masterpiece.  Goerne’s voice though formidably powerful, can also be remarkably tender.  The gentle lilt of Die Sennin suggests warm summer breezes wafting the herdgirl’s songs down from alpine meadows to the valley. It’s a song in which tenors excel, but Goerne captures its sunlit radiance.  Then Einsamkeit, where the mood darkens. Under the densely overgrown spruce trees, “Still hier der Geist der Liebe”, deep, hopeless love. Thus we’re prepared for Requiem, the seventh and last song in Schumann’s op 90.  The Requiem sets a text by an anonymous poet, which is rather apt since the poem deals with the annihilation of personality that is death.  The piano part is soothing, the lines long and sedate, but Goerne’s artistry brings out the undercurrent of tragedy that lies beneath the conventional,piety the text.

We remain in the pensive solitude of Der Einsledler op 83/3 (Eichendorff) , also from 1850, before looking back on the past with a few songs from Myrthen (Heine) op 24 from 1840, the glorious Liederjahre in which Schumann’s genius for vocal music suddenly blossomed, inspired, perhaps by his marriage to Clara.  Die Lotousblume and Du bist wie eine blume are sensuous, Goerne’s voice imparting tenderness as well as desire.  Provocatively, though Goerne and Hinterhäuser interrupt the floral reverie two Rückert songs, Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint op 37/1 and Mein schöner Stern !”  op,101/4 from Minnespeil, a collection from 1849 for different combinations of voices, reminding us of Schumann’s interests in larger vocal forms.  It feels as though a chill has descended upon the spring blooms, just as Schumann himself would experience disruption. Nachtlied op 96/1, to the famous text by Goethe, is in Schumann’s setting, much more haunted than Schubert’s.  

Wifried von der Neun

Goerne and Hinterhäuser then return to 1850, with the complete set of Sechs 6 Gesänge op 89 to poems by a strange man who used the pen name of Wilfried von der Neun,  “Wilfred of The Nine”, meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote “the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change….It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one.”  The songs aren’t premier cru : Schumann with his exquisite taste in poetry must have had a bad day.  Nonetheless,  Goerne and Hinterhäuser give such a fine performance that definitely justifies the prominence given to therm on this disc.  Lesser musicians beware. Though not ideal, these songs are worth knowing because they demonstrate Schumann’s willingness to explore new directions. 
ams is the source to go for studying these songs, for he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör’ ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe.  Sams said “Schumann’s memory is playing him tricks”.

Moreover, this set was written close to the time Schumann wrote the superb Lenau set op 90 with which Goerne and Hinterhäuser began this recording.  This shows that Schumann’s powers were not failing. Like most creative people he wasn’t afraid to take risks.  It may be significant, though, that Lenau had some kind of mental breakdown in 1844, aged only 42, and spent the rest of his life incarcerated in an asylum.  this recording ends with Abendlied op 107/6 from Sechs Gesänge (1851–52) to a poem by Gottfried Kinkel.  The song is dignified, an exercise in balance and  refinement. Listen to how Goerne shapes the lines, flowing smoothly from very high notes to very low. The song demonstrates his range and technical ability, but even more impressively his grasp of emotional subtlety.  As night falls, the world sinks into darkness. But the stars appear “in Majestät”. The poet hears “the footsteps of angels” and the advance of a golden, celestial chariot “in gleichen, festem gleise”.  No wonder the song ends, not with gloom but firm resolve.”Wirf ab, Herz, was dich kränket und was dir bange macht”. Definitely not “alone” in Einsamkeit.   

Original Source: Matthias Goerne Schumann Einsamkeit

A Happy Day for a 9-yr. old piano student playing on her first recital

Maeve, aka “Liz” was welcomed into the universe of music sharing in the beautiful Oakland Hills of California. What better backdrop, cloaked in nature, as breezes wafted through branches, shaking out leaves in graceful patterns. The images, extracted from the East Bay’s gorgeous panorama are in Maeve’s mental repository, as they feed relaxed energy down her arms into supple wrists. Many Russian piano teachers draw on the “weeping willow” tree model, in particular, to inspire fluidity of movement. Graceful approaches to the keyboard that are in synch with phrase contours do not happen by chance. They are nurtured along by mentors with great care.

Maeve has learned in this spirit for a bit over a year’s time, having been exposed to the singing tone and how to physically produce it. From the very start of lessons we have integrated composing, ear-training, theory, structure, with an underlying MUSICAL framing. Sound is imagined before it can be channeled into the keyboard in physical motion. This very sensitivity begins from day 1 continuing in increments through developmental phases.

Maeve’s own journey has been logged in videos from late February 2016 to the present. These can be found on You Tube under “LIZ’s” piano lessons.


Today was a Rite of Passage as all first recitals are. Can we remember our own? In my day, there were no cell phones, camcorders, computers, etc.–perhaps just old-fashioned home movies generated by what would be considered antiquated hardware—Nothing like the mega-technology of the 21rst Century. I have no personal recollection of playing in a group recital at my humble music school on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. Not even a Brownie camera captured my first Diller-Quaille, two-note “Ding-Dong” piece that required my Russian teacher, Mrs. Vinagradov to accompany me to make the music sound full and resonant. That’s why I hungered constantly for our rich harmonic collaboration, having to wait for too many years before I was allowed to play with TWO hands–ADD in the White NOTE obsession of this era’s teaching, and delayed exposure to the Bass Clef which instilled fears of moving forward.

Thankfully the state of the teaching art is different today, more progressive than regressive, breaking down inhibitions of the past associated with MIDDLE C fixated madness and black note avoidance.

The fortunate beneficiaries of this new learning/teaching consciousness are Maeve and many of her contemporaries.

Today’s recital revealed the fruits of collective labors. Maeve was poised and determined to SHARE the pure beauty of the music she had so thoroughly learned. It was her entry into the world of giving and receiving that will propel her studies along with heartfelt commitment.

A big Thank You to the host of the group recital, Betty Woo, on behalf of the Music Teachers Association of California, MTAC.


Flashback: Maeve’s First Piano Lesson (parts 1, 2 and 3)

There are many more sample lessons with Liz on You Tube.

Original Source: A Happy Day for a 9-yr. old piano student playing on her first recital