Switched On – Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The harpist Mary Lattimore has been busy in the two years since her last album release, Hundreds Of Days, with a good deal of touring and a remix package from that long player featuring work from Julianna Barwick and Jónsi among others.

For Silver Ladders she decamped from her Los Angeles home to the studio of Slowdive and Mojave 3 lynchpin Neil Halstead near Newquay, in Cornwall, working with him in sessions over an intense recording period of nine days.

What’s the music like?

Rather magical. The very different starting points of Lattimore and her producer are ideal, for the twinkling colours of the harp find their ideal match in Halstead’s very subtle guitar and studio work.

The harp remains the most prominent instrument and sets the tone with the beautifully poised Pine Trees, Lattimore’s silvery colours punctuated with pinpricks of intensity.

The album unfolds over seven tracks, with the centrepiece Til A Mermaid Drags You Under. This substantial piece of work begins in the lower register of the harp but gradually takes flight, the upper register adding wider perspectives and a twinkling edge. Halstead’s production touches reinforce the bass with sonorous notes and boost the reverberation, the listener given a sound picture akin to hovering over a vast bay.

Don’t Look is another extended meditation, Lattimore exploring the deep twang of a string in the harp’s lower register but with dreamy guitar from Halstead. The producer also provides thoughtful counterpoint to Sometimes He’s In My Dreams, then murmuring electronics to Chop on the Climbout, Lattimore’s harp flickering in the half light.

The closing Thirty Tulips is particularly beautiful, shifting phases and gently undulating, with a range of different sounds from the harp and broader electronic notes in the background.

Does it all work?

Yes, and repeated hearings only enhance the positive experience this album can bring. For an extra dimension, try the visual score accompaniment by Rachael Pony Cassells, which adds a further layer of enchantment to this already beautiful music:

Is it recommended?

With no hesitation. In these rather fraught times the subtleness of music like this can work wonders – though that’s not to say Mary Lattimore is without expression or imagination. Silver Ladders evokes starry ripples on the nocturnal waters with effortless ease, the listener borne away on the waves.

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Listening to Beethoven #74 – Seufzer eines Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe


Gottfried August Bürger

Seufzer eines Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe WoO 118 for voice and piano (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Gottfried August Bürger
Duration 6’30”

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Background and Critical Reception

This is one of Beethoven’s biggest solo vocal works to date, setting a pair of poems by Gottfried August Bürger. The first, Seufzer eines Ungeliebten (Plaint of a Loveless Man), is set out as an operatic recitative, while the second, Gegenliebe (Requited Love) is more of an aria with a broad, flowing profile. Commentators immediately noted the similarity of the melody in the second poem not just to the Choral Fantasy Op.80 but to the Ode to Joy from the Choral Symphony.

Susan Youens, writing for the recording made by Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside for Signum Classics, notes that ‘if the prosody leaves something to be desired, it is nonetheless fascinating that this melodic idea was brewing in Beethoven’s brain literally for decades and that the song’s impulse gave rise to the mighty symphony’.

Amanda Glauert, in The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven, draws a strong parallel with the forthcoming concert aria Ah, Perfido! For her Beethoven ‘chose to adopt an exaggeratedly operatic idiom for his setting of the first poem’, concluding that ‘the gracious triple-meter melodies in E flat into which both song and aria resolve are so similar in contour that one can sense how Beethoven must have borrowed the style from his teacher (Salieri) or other Italianate models. In Gegenliebe, ‘the awkward text setting…when heard in context…becomes the natural consequence of the voice being pushed forwards by the piano’s rhythmic intensity.’

Meanwhile in The Beethoven Companion, Leslie Orrey finds the piano writing ‘suggests a transcription of an orchestral score.’

Thoughts

Just as his studies with Albrechtsberger have been blooming, so Beethoven’s education with Salieri appears to be bearing bigger and greater fruit. The songs we are hearing now are more substantial and adventurous, and this two-parter is one borne of the stage rather than the recital room.

From the first notes it is clear this is substantial and meaningful vocal work for Beethoven. There is an immediate sense of drama, maybe exaggerated a bit but ideally suited to the male singer. Tension surrounds the music from the off, but is resolved beautifully into the Requited Love, where we first hear the memorable theme. Its similarity to the Ode To Joy is uncanny, and as Susan Youens says it must have meant a lot to the composer, a melody whose profile stayed at the front of his thoughts for decades.

Once heard it is the tune that dominates, and the aria finishes in a resilient and triumphant mood.

Recordings used

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano) (Deutsche Grammophon)
Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)

Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Olbertz (piano)

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Melvyn Tan (fortepiano) (Archiv)

An imperious performance from the great baritone Fischer-Dieskau, with a dramatic introduction and ideal phrasing on the big tune. Hermann Prey and Leonard Hokanson are even more expansive, clocking in at nearly seven minutes. Peter Schreier moves the music up in pitch (in C minor rather than B flat minor) but his version also carries a sense of occasion. Anne Sofie von Otter does too, though not quite as full bodied in tone. Melvyn Tan’s fortepiano provides ideal support.

Spotify links

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jörg Demus

Hermann Prey, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier & Werner Olbertz

Anne Sofie von Otter, Melvyn Tan

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1795 Reicha –  Concerto Concertant Op.3

Next up O care selve (first version)

In concert – Lotte Betts-Dean & Joseph Havlat @ Bishopsgate Institute

Lotte Betts-Dean (soprano), Joseph Havlat (piano)

Bishopsgate Institute, London
Friday 9 October, 1pm (review of the online broadcast)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Hindemith Nine English Songs (1942-4): no.2, Echo; no.7, Sing on there in the Swamp
Varèse Un grand sommeil noir (1906)
Schoen Sechs Gedichte von Fritx Heinle (1932)
Szymanowski Before Bedtime Op.49/1 (1922-3)
Schoen Sechs Lieder für Kinder (1927)
Malipiero Omaggi (1920) – no.1, A un papagallo
Casella X-Berceuse Op.35/11 (1920)
Tyrwhitt-Wilson Trois petites marches funèbres (1916) – no.1, Pour un homme d’état; no.2, Pour un canari
Schoen Das Anti-Hitler Lied (1941); Das Heimkehrlied (c1940)
Spoliansky Das Lila Lied (1920)
Schoenberg Brettl-Lieder (1901) – no.1, Galathea

The recently returned lunchtime series at Bishopsgate promises an extensive range of music and artists. This afternoon’s recital was no exception in focussing on songs by Ernst Schoen (1894-1960), the German composer and radio pioneer who for some years resided in London.

Their programme divided into four complementary parts, Lotte Betts-Dean and Joseph Havlat began with ‘Music for Friends’ – two gently laconic settings by Hindemith of Thomas Moore and Walt Whitman being followed by the sombre rumination as drawn by Varèse from Paul Verlaine’s poem in almost the only extant piece of this composer’s earlier years. The settings of Fritz Henle (whose life was terminated by his own hand at the outbreak of the First World War) reveal Schoen having absorbed the expressionism of Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens cycle in songs that, elusive and unaffected by turns, were perceptively rendered here.

The second part centred on ‘Music for Children’, with the first of Szymanowski’s enchanting Children’s Rhymes followed by a set from Schoen. Here the inspiration lay in those nonsense rhymes after Russian texts which Stravinsky had penned the previous decade, albeit with an ironic edge rather more akin to Schulhoff’s songs and piano miniatures from the early 1920s.

The third part brought ‘Music for Dance and the Stage’ in the guise of pieces danced by Henri Châtin Hofmann (1900-1961) to Dadaist choreography (recently recreated when this selection was presented in Warsaw) which fairly typified the decadence and provocation of the Weimar Republic’s heyday. Insouciant miniatures by Malipiero and Casella were thus juxtaposed with two of the funeral pieces by Lord Berners, whose Satie-esque whimsy was shot through with an ominousness which Havlat (replacing an indisposed Samuel Draper) realized accordingly.

The fourth and final part focussed upon ‘Music for Politics’, Schoen’s pointed castigation of Hitler and his fervent contemplation on ‘coming home’ followed with a sardonic number by Mischa Spoliansky such as persisted as a Gay Rights anthem long after it had been created. Betts-Dean and Havlat upped the emotional ante in these latter songs, bringing the advertised programme to a close. Time, though, for two more of Schoen’s children’s songs and the first of Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder – the soprano’s coyness making up for any lack of sensuality.

An arresting recital by artists who will hopefully perform this and similar music again soon.

This concert can be accessed at the Bishopsgate Institute Facebook page

On record: Weinberg: Wir Gratulieren! (Congratulations!) – Vladimir Stoupel (Oehms Classics)

Weinberg arr. Henry Koch
Wir Gratulieren! (Congratulations! orig. Mazl tov!) Op.111 (1975)

Beylya – Olivia Saragosa (contralto), Reb Alter – Jeff Martin (tenor) Khaim – Robert Elibay-Hartog (baritone) Fradl – Anna Gütter (soprano) Madame – Katia Guedes (soprano), Kammerakademie Potsdam / Vladimir Stoupel

Producer Hein Laabs Engineer Henri Thaon
Recorded 23 September 2012, Werner-Otto-Saal, Konzerthaus, Berlin

Oehms Classics OC990 [two discs, 80’23”]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Oehms Classics issues this first recording of a one-act opera by Mieczysław Weinberg, taken from a live performance in Berlin to the German translation by Ulrike Patow, as adapted by the composer from the drama by Sholom Aleichem (indirectly of Fiddler on the Roof fame).

What’s the music like?

Those having heard Weinberg’s first opera, the powerfully dramatic The Passenger (Neos or ArtHaus), or his last, the darkly inward The Idiot (Pan Classics) will find Mazl tov! something different again.

By the mid-1970s, the composer felt able to pen an intrinsically Jewish opera with recourse to the song and dance idioms familiar from the Yiddish theatre of his Warsaw youth, and a decidedly sardonic tone not far removed from the interwar stage works of Weill or Eisler. Any risk of provoking Soviet officialdom was offset by a vein of Socialist optimism in the ‘masters versus servants’ scenario, culminating in a ‘things will be different’ outcome. Divided into two acts (55 and 25 minutes), the narrative allows for incremental though subtle development of the four protagonists as they move as if pre-destined to their double wedding.

Does it all work?

Yes, inasmuch that this music, played in an adept reduction for chamber orchestra by Henry Koch, is itself characterful as well as ideally suited to the domestic tragicomedy at hand. Each of the four main singers is allotted their share of the limelight, without these soliloquys either detracting from or impeding the onward flow of the drama, and those familiar with Weinberg will detect various motifs or phrases that re-emerge in the symphonies and string quartets he was to write across the next decade – making for a work as central to his output as any other.

As to the cast, Olivia Saragosa brings no mean pathos to the cook Beylya, recently widowed and in thrall to an ungrateful mistress, while Jeff Martin evinces humour and no little stealth as Reb Alter, the travelling bookseller whose radical thinking motivates all those around him. Robert Elibay-Hartog is no less persuasive in the role of Khaim, servant from a neighbouring estate whose charm and panache gradually win over the maid Fradl, whose initial monologue summons the most affecting music of the entire opera and who arguably emerges as the most liberated by the close. Katia Guedes is equally arresting as Madame, her cameo appearances galvanizing the drama not least in the final scene as she is faced down by her moral superiors. Note that Weinberg’s alternative, more expressively ambivalent ending is used at this point.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Vladimir Stoupel secures a vibrant response from the musicians of Kammerakademie Potsdam, heard to advantage within the confines of the chamber hall at Berlin’s Konzerthaus, even if those demands of a live performance mean balance with the singers is not consistent. The booklet is attractively produced with full artist biographies and production sketches, but Arno Lücker’s introductory note is only adequate and the German-only libretto has numerous entries printed under the wrong singer. An English translation is available online (see below).

Hopefully, an alternative recording or production of Mazl tov! – preferably with the original orchestration and in Russian – will emerge in due course. For now, however, this lively and capable production should engage and amuse listeners as audibly as it did its Berlin audience.

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For further information, audio clips and purchase information visit the Presto website

Listening to Beethoven #73 – Fugue for string quartet in D minor (fragment)

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven – silver medal, probably based on a design by Fritz Schwerdt © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Fugue in D minor, Hess 245 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 0’45”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

A ‘fragmentary fugue’ is not necessarily a phrase to get the musical pulse racing, but since we are trying to cover everything Beethoven wrote, even the snippets are worth a listen.

This short excerpt also hails from Beethoven’s lessons with Albrechtsberger.

Thoughts

We return to the key of D minor, a popular selection for output from these lessons – but when the excerpt starts it feels like we have walked into a performance half way through.

Even at the end, in spite of the busy part writing, there is no resolution – so this is very much a scrap from the cutting room floor rather than something you would expect to see included in a concert.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

A very well played version – though it is far from complete, so difficult to judge.

Spotify links

Fine Arts Quartet

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1795 Hyacinth Jadin 3 Piano Sonatas Op.4

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31