Composed and deComposed: Music of Our Centuries
[December 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:5.]
The events surrounding the terrorist destruction of the Wold Trade Center has had a peculiar effect on the musicians and other artists I’ve spoken with. Composer, vibraphonist and friend Gunter Hampel told me most of the musicians he has spoken with have, for the moment, lost the desire to create. They are shell shocked like the rest of us. The ones I have spoken to, on the contrary, like Hampel, feel an urgency to create; this is what we do and this is how we go on. Hampel was a witness to the hits, and have become an ersatz EuroAmerican correspondent to the European community. On another foot, the totally insane but wonderful composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has given an interview which he later claimed was quoted out of context, claiming the attack to have been beautiful orchestrated. No doubt so, although one in a public position puts himself at risk of being miscontextualized and should have been aware of that. Gyorgy Ligeti has denounced Stockhausen’s words, and Stockhausen has an apologia on his dot org Website. My wonderfully hotheaded editor supreme had, at least verbally, considered dumping his Stockhausen recordings, to which I impishly suggested that better yet, if one does like the music and not the man, bootleg copies for your friends. Interestingly, Stockhausen Verlag has recently cut (before this brouhaha) the arrogantly exorbitant prices they’d been charging for the discs, most formerly available decades ago on DGG.
From what I am able to gather [my thanks for these quotes to colleagues Florian, and Steve Smith, which appeared on the Zorn-list discussions], according to the German news agency dpa, Stockhausen said in an interview he gave, regarding a concert in Hamburg, “What happened there is – now you must readjust your brain – the biggest artwork of all times. That spirits achieve in a single act what we in music cannot dream of, that people rehearse ten years long like mad, totally fanatical for a concert and then die. This is the biggest artwork that exists at all in the whole universe… I couldn’t match it. Against that, we – as composers – are nothing.” I understand the context. It may not have been politically nor socially astute, let alone courteous, but Stockhausen is generally acknowledged as a brilliant space cadet.
Asked by a journalist whether he identified art and crime, Stockhausen replied, “It’s a crime because the people were not consenting. They haven’t come to the ‘concert.’ This is evident. And nobody had announced them that they could die in its process. What happened there spiritually, this leap from security, from what’s ordinary, from life, that sometimes happens poco a poco in art. Or else it is nothing.” This made me think of a play which recently devastated me with it cruelty, Edward Albee’s The Baby. Definitely falling within Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, I’m still reeling from the impact of this masterpiece, but again, I paid the ticket, even though I hadn’t known what I was in for.
The Financial Times Germany quotes Stockhausen’s colleague Gyorgy Ligeti with the following reaction: “Stockhausen has taken the side of the terrorists… If he thinks this atrocious mass murder is an artwork, I am sorry that I have to say that he should be locked up in a psychiatric hospital.”
On the realistic side, one of New York’s major avant venues, located within the frozen zone, with police permission was able to slightly dance some music our way. Their email advisory noted: “People are paying attention to our instructions: We have posted the most navigable… places to enter on our home page; we also have given (and will continue to give) a list of advance ticket names, signed off by the commanding lieutenant, to all check points… anyone with valid ID matching a name on that list was and will be let in… Somewhat insane, but unfortunately necessary for our survival.”
Marc-Anthony Turnage brought out the crowds to Miller Theater’s opening concert of this season, his Blood On The Floor, with the Absolute Ensemble conducted by a clearly excited Kristjan Järvi. Turnage is a consummate colorist, using winds and brass with panache, although my companion remarked about Blood, “True, but he wasted the strings and the harp.” What he did do was enlist a three crack jazz players: saxophonist Peter Epstein (who’s been turning up on a lot of discs I’d been recommending lately), drummer Peter Erskine, and guitarist Bruce Arnold. Turnage frequently uses paintings as inspiration for his work, perhaps being the most famous Three Screaming Popes, based on three Francis Bacon paintings, once available on an EMI classical CD single. Here too, on Blood, several of the movements are titled after paintings, but as Turnage explained in the preconcert talk, these are not programmatic compositions; he uses the art as inspiration and then departs.
Many of us in the audience, for whatever reason, perhaps the title, mistakenly thought Blood on the Floor was going to be an opera. They has considered cancelling it after 9/11 because of the title, which is plain silly. It’s a suite of nine pieces, based upon (using at a starting point, but despite retention of programmatic movement titles, not a programmatic suite ) Langston Hughes’ “Junior Addict.” That’s the title of the pastoral second movement, with winds, Epstein and Arnold. The colors reminded me of Turangalîla and RVW’s London Symphony. It was fun watching Järvi, in one of his his usual sixties-print outfits, conduct “Shout,” fluid and precise. This man contains the music in his body, like Bernstein did. “Sweet and Decay” began with a groundswell of percussion, deep bass drum like dinosaur groans. There was a flute and soprano sax duet.
Midway, in “Needles,” Järvi walked offstage and let the jazzbos conduct. They were used for color as well as for solo, and despite Turnage’s consultation of Erskine for ideas regarding use of percussion, they wind up being beside the point, ultimately a collage rather than a unity. After the last note of a solo, one of the Ensemble shouted “Yeah!” as if he were a tourist in a jazz club. The mix didn’t work. Still, the concert was exciting due to the performers, and the colors were a treat. Relistening to the disc of Popes after the concert confirmed my delight with Turnage as a colorist, but disappointment with those pieces as well. Not so his single disc opera on Argo, The Greeks, to me a masterpiece updating a Greek tragedy to contemporary northern Britain, which I hope Universal has kept in print. If not, I highly recommend you seek it used.
I missed Carnegie Hall’s opening night, but the second concert was a night I’ll never forget. It was a scant two weeks after the bombing of the WTC, and New York City was (still is) reeling from the shock and implications. There were long lines in the street as all bags were examined upon entry. The concert didn’t begin until 8:30, but all understood and no one minded; we felt safer. The Taliban, after all, ban music, and although I’d assume pop music to be a main target, Carnegie represents the best of Western music culture. The Berlin Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado were to play this night, and the following night the Mahler 7th was scheduled. Notice went out that the program has been changed to Beethoven’s 5th and 6th, and the internet was abuzz with (unconfirmed) rumor that the BPO had to make the change because some twenty of their force refused to fly and so the larger ensemble requirements of the mahler couldn’t be met. Conflicting rumors denied that, saying that although some were reticent, they were told to fly or lose their jobs. I’m sure the truth is somewhere between. The program booklet contained an insert dedication: “We have come to America at a time of great anguish and sorrow. We have left our families to be with our friends here in America. John F. Kennedy once said at a critic moment in Berlin’s history, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ At this terrible moment, we are the ones who say with you, ‘We are all New Yorkers.’”
The program was Brahms’ first piano concerto and Beethoven’s 7th. The Barenboim/Barbirolli performance was the one which changed my mind about these concerti being turgid and dull; I know love the first and was extremely exciting about hearing Pollini do this with Abbado. Little did I expect, though, that this would be a performance of a lifetime. I’m unsure to what extent this had to do with my own frame of mind, or if it’s always been there under the surface, but the concerto seemed a battle between good and evil. The opening theme was ferocious and imperious; it seemed to fight with resolve. The texture of the orchestra was astounding, each line standing out yet part of the whole; the flutes resonant. When Pollini entered, the playing was a bit jittery, but that made it more exciting; it has the momentous surge of a dance deejay blending in a new disc. The oboe and flute interlude was gorgeous. I heard for the first time in the piano line what I term an “art deco” sound, like Previn’s Telarc performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony. This performance was not about the piano. I heard many individual notes yet what came through was the connective tissue, the long line, the underplayed grandeur of the second piano theme.
The Beethoven 7th was more about the structure than the beauty. Again Abbado went for the long line, many details were lightly spotlit, but never at the expense of the larger picture. The melody took primacy of the rollicky rhythm, but the momentum was sure. It didn’t bounce so much as some other performances, rather is was interestingly jerk and seemed to move quite briskly. The dark, strong theme was solemn and straightforward. Wind solos were strikingly beautiful. The presto smoothed out some of the bumps yet the tuttis were full and satisfying. The concluding allegro con brio made me think of the can-can. At the end, the audience stood as one and cheered and applauded until we were drained.
The next night, expectations were high for the same forces doing the 5th and 6th, but sadly, they were merely good. Again, the long line, again the gorgeous sound resonating throughout the auditorium. In the 5th, a stunning horn solo faded and was absorbed by the orchestra. The andante con moto brought out the wonderful textures of the knitting violins; the allegro brought to mind the Brandenburgs. the 6th was lilting, a lovely one-two-three at the brook, but again, it was merely good. Universal tells me these performances are not yet available singly, only in the complete Abbado/Berlin set which I haven’t yet heard.
Planned years ago, it still was a breath-taking thing to have a performance of Britten’s War Requiem, October 9th again at Carnegie Hall, with James Conlon conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with Robert Porco leading the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus. One of my internet pals had been prodding me for months to give another listen to the Requiem, which has been sitting dormant on my long Britten shelf for many years, both Britten’s own and the Scottish performance by Martyn Brabbins on Naxos. After this concert, I surely will. Carnegie’s amazing Ara Guzelimian, who conducts the pre-concert discussions and interviews (note to Carnegie: Please begin to record these important discussions; they should be documented), said wistfully, “One no longer takes for granted the gathering together for music,” and indeed, circumstances kept Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Olaf Bär, who would have made his Carnegie debut, from participating. Instead, baritone William Sharp and tenor John Aler did us proud with an all-American War Requiem during which I confess I decided to not take any notes, and just absorb the piece. Being an atheist, I have difficulty with much music with religious texts (especially when in English), but the beauty of the music with religious and war poetry left me in tears. Again, the audience fully acknowledged their appreciation. It has been reassuring that during these rough weeks, the Hall has been filled.
I caught the second of two Evelyn Glennie concerts at Carnegie on October 11, with Leonard Slatkin and the National Symphony Orchestra. In his patriotism, like a little bandleader general in a gazebo, the patriotic conductor chose to make the trains run on time and mounted the podium and immediately opened with the Star Spangled Banner, fluid yet with crack precision. (The individual performers make the decision whether to begin on time or to allow for the inevitable delay due to security bag searches.) First on the set program, and, sadly, missed by many, was Ionisation by Edgard Varèse, the sirens scary in a our new mental set. The martial rhythms brought to mind Shostakovich’s war symphony, the 7th. It’s hard now to believe this music was once thought to be ‘difficult.’ The bells foreshadowed the closing piece, Revueltas’ Night of the Mayas.
I have to credit Slatkin with brilliant programming. After Varèse was the New York premiere of George Tsontakis’ concerto for percussion and orchestra, Mirologhia. I’d heard that word from other compositions, and it’s the term for spontaneous, wailing, strophic songs of mourning. The concerto contains, of course, much percussion, and plaintive mourning moans, a plaintive dirge from the orchestra in their normal voices, admirable not pretending to ‘sound Greek.’ The second movement, depicted “scurrying angels,” yet I thought of the traffic noises in Barber’s Knoxville. The notes mistakenly say the “Labyrinths” movement “may sound an awful lot like jazz,” but it was wondrous with bird-like flutes calls and a brilliant use of steel drums. The strings rode over like clouds from the left of the auditorium. This could’ve been a piece by Robin Holloway if Holloway were of Greek descent. The concluding movement, “Mirologhia.” found percussionist Glennie wailing, again, appropriately not trying to sound Greek, although I’d cherish a performance with Greek singers. The end wasn’t a conclusion, rather, it just stopped.
The piece which got everyone on their feet with an extended, well deserved ovation was the New York premiere of the Percussion Concerto by CHEN Yi. Bowed, slurred, pitched strings and percussion, in rhythms similar to Irish jigs; strong use of pizzicato; a concluding suck-out of massed cellos like at the end of Yes’ “Perpetual Change.” I crave a recording of this piece, and must search out more music by Chen. The concluding Night of the Mayas eschewed the treacly, cinematic view which have ruined some performances for me, even in México; this instead was grand, symphonic. In the first movement, “Noche de los mayas,” the ‘Indian’ theme was more integrated than in some, yet the ethnic roots were indeed clear. This blend and seamless tag-team of textures was a credit to Slatkin. The son jaracho of Veracruz influencing the second movement was top drawer; the slightly off key horn perfection, although it might have been highlighted. “Noche de Yucatán” was emotional, and again used the right textures; the cellos slapping strings with their bows were superb. The concluding movement of themes and variations were episodic but well linked. Fabulous percussion and conch shell; if only Sendak’s Wild Things were there to dance to it.
Maurizio Pollini dedicated his October 26 solo concert to Isaac Stern, who had a seeming short while back saved Carnegie Hall from the wrecker’s ball. Stern passed away September 22. The program was Beethoven’s Apassionata and four Chopin Ballades. All were worthy and had their moments, but neither stood out as special. The generous encores, however, were astounding and themselves worth the ticket; each a gem and played with all the passion and precision of phrasing lacking in the main program. All Chopin: Berceuse, Scherzo in B flat minor, Prelude in D flat (“Raindrop”), Etude, Prelude. As with most encores, they were unannounced and I was dependent on the usual courtesy of the Carnegie press office for the titles, or at least as close as they were given.
The American Composers Orchestra celebrated its 25th Anniversary season with a concert monickered “Technology and the Orchestra,” conducted beautifully by Paul Lustig Dunkel. The U.S. premiere of Tristan Murail’s Le Partage des eaux swelled with reminiscence of La Mer, but with a different rhythm. The opening electronic part a low whoosh rumbling like baggage wheels on slate. It has color, pulse, shading, much of the sound metallic, like long wiry strings. I felt as if I’d better appreciate the work at home with a good stereo system. I either love or hate most of Tod Machover’s work, and own recordings of most of it. His Bounce is a wonderfully humorous piece, although others are simple and silly. I enjoyed his opera Valis when excerpts were performed, but on disc, I love only the finale, an electronic exaltation in its own way as anthemic as the end of Der Rosenkavalier. The world premier of his Sparkle found me magnetically glued to the seat, forcing myself to be professional, but feeling close to how I felt the only time I ever, as a paying member of the audience, actually booed a piece: the world premiere of John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music. Sparkle is that tinkly stuff they listen to is some of the Star Trek lounges, too tinkly and nearly new-agey. (If one loathes “New Age,” does that make one an age-ist?) Sparkle is like one of those greeting cards that plays music, but with a much, much more complicated chip. I love the “ghost electronics” works of Morton Subotnick, and was looking forward to world premiere of the “digital version” of Before the Butterfly (there are a whole series of wonderful Subotnick “Butterfly” works). Alas, this too was a disappointment, another piece where the sounds seemed chosen not because it was right for the music, but to show what could be done.
On to some new CD releases.
Joel Sachs is best known to new-music lovers, with Cheryl Seltzer, as founder of Continuum, one our most important and talented standard bearers, over twenty five years bringing to us full programs of composers such as Gubaidulina long before they were known quantities. (Okay, I exaggerate: although Continuum usually produces single composer programs, that one also contained Ruth Crawford and Graczyna Bacewicz. Sue me.) Sachs conducts the Camerata de las Américas in Conga-Line in Hell (Dorian DOR-93230, 60:48, dorian.com), part of Dorian’s indispensable series of Latin American music, classic and new. Notes, to their credit, are also given in Spanish. Much as I hate most pieces based on minimalism, the Uruguayan Miguel del Águila, takes some of that structure, but creates a wild maddening dance, with a clear conga (you can actually dance to this is you know how to adapt when the piece does). A dream compilation comes to mind: this, “Dance At the Gym,” “The Chairman Dances,” and that’s just what I felt from the opener. The unknown is followed by the better known Danzón No. 4 by the Mexican, Arturo Márquez, a sweeping ballroom of a piece. Put a rose between my teeth, querido, and we’ll dance. Conlon Nancarrow was one of the beneficiaries of at least one Continuum retrospective, not to mention first disc of his orchestral and chamber music (MusicMasters 7068-2) a decade ago. It too includes the 1943 Piece No. 1 for Small Orchestra. Get in the Conga-Line immediately; it gets my highest recommendation.
If you like the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s music, you might enjoy Lawrence del Casale’s disc of guitar music by Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero, titled Zenobia (musicians Showcase MS 1017, musiciansshowcase.com). It’s a bit light for me, but quite enjoyable. Mezzo Puli Toros sings five songs accompanied by del Casale.
Yuki and Tomoko Mack Piano Duo. American Mosaic. (Musicians Showcase MS 1038, 65:19, musiciansshowcase.com) A absolutely delightful surprise is Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story in a two-piano arrangement by John Musto. This duo has the style under their fingernails; it’s rich, earthy, and played with panache, when called for, and non-mopey sentiment in “Somewhere.” Interestingly, and I don’t know if this is more Musto or Bernstein, much recalls the phrasing of Pictures at an Exhibition. Like Bernstein, this duo can play delicate hardball; I’ve been playing this repeatedly as if it were a 45. I only know composer Victor Babin by name, and the three of his Etudes chosen here (I, IV, V) are fun display pieces. V sounds amazingly like “Flight of the Bumblebee.” From Rodeo, we get Copland’s “Saturday Night Waltz” and “Hoe Down.” I’m no fan of Copland’s Americana, but give me his chamber and abstract pieces any day. These are charming and I will have to reconsider the orchestral versions. Rorem’s pieces either grip me or bore me with little middle ground. His Six Variations for Two Pianos was composed for a competition; the liner notes misled me to think the Mack Duo premiered the work. Rather, they encountered it there, and adopted it into their repertoire. The use Grainger’s arrangement of Porgy and Bess, Fantasy for Two Pianos, hence it is appropriately played more grandly than some other arrangements; very rhapsodic and blue. Don’t let the weak liners and unattractive and poor packaging discourage you. I should not have had to use white ink to write the track numbers on the tray card, nor would take to the laminated black background anyway.
Ravel, Bridge. Charles Libove, violin; Nina Lugovoy, piano. (Musicians Showcase MS 1012, 64:16, musiciansshowcase.com). In the posthumous sonata by Ravel, Lugovoy’s piano plays a heavy and heavily romantic hand while the violin projects a virtuosic but appropriately French style, though sometimes wobbly. Tzigane eschews the gypsy violin quaver for a more episodic take which is momentarily folkloric, then frenetic, then about five minutes in repeats a figure as if it were John Adams, and the cimbalom imitation is more fun than folkloric. A mixed bag, but it fills in gaps in my collection. By contrast, from the first notes of the Rouvier-Kantorow performance on MHS/Erato LP 3174, we are steeped in paprika, and although the piano part is impressionistic Ravel, what clearly was a cimbalom reference in Libove-Lugovoy, here sounds merely plinky pizzicato. It’s a fascinating difference. I’d been sure I had the Ravel chamber music on CD, but I didn’t, and the same for the Bridge sonata.
I have forever found an easy love for the works of Morton Feldman, and now I have encountered the first one which made me work for it. String Quartet (II) (hat[now]ART4-144, 4 CDs, 4:45, cadencebuilding.com.) It begins with not minimal sound, as expected, but nearly minimalist repetitions; one might on blind hearing mistake this for a piece by Andriessen. It also has a lot of forward motion, not the hypnotic stasis one expects from his extended works. But that’s only the beginning. I hear quotations from the opening bars of the Berg’s violin concerto. Other sections are actually whimsical. The final stretch does indeed have that trademark Feldman quality of keeping you hanging in time simultaneously suspended and in full consciousness of detail. The notes by Art Lange are superb, explaining the piece technically, but also conversationally. Apt, often philosophical, quotations are interspersed between. Although the notes are excellent, it’s a foolish waste of space to duplicate them on both of the space saving thin, double-gatefold sleeves. I’ve only listened to this twice through before deadline struck, but I’m struck by how off balance, (actually: disturbed) this piece made me. One thing to note, though. This is one of the Feldman works which must be listened to attentively (others I feel may be approached in a variety of manners). Length notwithstanding, I expect to spend many more hours getting to know this performance by the Ives Ensemble.
There’s no need to go into detail over Konstantin Scherbakov’s set of the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich (Naxos 8.554745-46, 2CDs, 141:50, naxos.com). It’s by far my favorite of the performances I’ve heard. Neither selections by Richter (Artia ALP43, LP) or the composer himself (Hall of Fame HOF 517, LP) come close to the construction of the formal pieces, and the sheer fun of the numbers which remind you of the rollicking Shostakovich of the Suite No. 1 for Jazz Band (savor the 1984 recording by Rozhdestvensky last available on Olympia OCD 156 licensed from Melodiya) and some of his movie scores. Although I’m keeping both, Scherbakov’s set makes its readily apparent now that Jarrett’s acclaimed ECM version finds that pianist alternating between his own, different dualities: either J.S. Bach, or the Jarrett solo concert mode. Get this.
I intend to treat myself to the missing previous volumes, given they are still in print. I picked up a disc in Hungaroton’s Great Hungarian Musicians series, of Jószef Szigeti and Béla Bartók in a 1940 recital at the Library of Congress (Hungaroton HCD 12330, 70:00, qualiton.com), not knowing it was the same disc I’ve enjoyed for years on a Vanguard CD. Beethoven’s Kreutzer is played friskily rather than heart-on-sleeve, Szigeti especially having fun nearly teetering off the road, knowing he has perfect control for the taunt. The Debussy sonata is played for all its romance, one extended violin note nearly turns into a theremin. Only the piano quavers give lie to an impressionistic base. Szigeti brings out a folkloric flavor I’d not noticed before. The concert concludes with Bartók’s Sonata 2 and Rhapsody 1.
I’d bought the Zoltán Kocsis box of solo piano Bartók four year ago, not knowing the series has continued ‘til Volume 7 happily turned up (Philips 289 464 639-2, 76:38, universalclassics.com). Kocsis has been my favorite contemporary Bartókian since I first fell under his spell decades ago on a Hungaroton 2 LP box of For Children, with a beautiful book, borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library and then immediately purchased. Ditto a Philips LP of his which introduced me to the roller coaster Allegro Barbaro and I’ve followed most of Bartók’s works since then. This is the most visceral playing I can imagine of these exciting works. I’ve heard the Sandór set on Sony, but it made no impression during my brief audition. Volume 7 contains the Dance Suite, Four Piano Pieces BB27, Marche Funèbre from Kossuth, and long and short versions of the first Rhapsody.
Under the title Gabriel Fauré and his Grandpupils (Classico ClassCD 362, 69:35, qualiton.com), the Danish label has brought us a disc not only well programmed but with excellent music and performances. Starting with Fauré’s second piano quartet, a piece I first learned to love, as with so much classical music, via an early Vox/Turnabout LP, the Esbjerg Ensemble leads us into Jean Françaix’s octet for winds and strings, À Huit, and concludes with Henri Dutilleux’s Les Citations: Diptych for oboe, percussion, harpsichord and double bass. It’s strong playing, thematically interesting, and get a high recommendation. It’s been playing a lot in this house for a solid month.
A fine surprise from Koch is an all-Stravinksy program that, even if you think don’t need another (unnarrated) Histoire du Soldat (Koch 3-7438-2HIm 62:34, kochentertainment.com), is definitely worth getting, with its casually ascerbic attitude like a cross between Weill and Nino Rota. If you don’t have one, this one is excellent, but that’s not what this disc is about. Steven Richman leads the Harmonie Ensemble/New York in Soldat, Pribaoutki with Lucy Shelton, the Octet for Wind Instruments, and the 45 second fanfare for a New Theater. Still, it’s the four pieces of recorded premieres, amounbting to thirteen minutes, which make this disc special. We tave a Tango for violin and piano, How The Mushrooms Went to War for bass singer and piano, a delightful La Marseillaise arranges for solo violin, and a tribute to Ramuz, who wrote the story for Soldat, Petit Ramusianum Harmonique for singing and speaking baritone. I’m enjoying this one repeatedly.
Orfeo Records has done it again; brought us a fantastic “new” opera from 1955, otherwise unavailable, with libretto only in German, with an extremely brief English synopsis and excellent notes. Werner Egk is best-known here via his half-hour Temptation of Saint-Anthony, a gorgeous piece of music sung by Dame Janet Baker on various LP compilations of West German music. Here we gave the world premiere performance of Irische Legende (Orfeo C564 012I, 2CDs, 112:56, qualiton.com) from the Salzburg Festival. George Szell conducts the Vienna Philharmonic, and Inga Borkh, Max Lorenz, and Walter Berry star among the cast. The notes call the work “not easy to consume,” but I can’t understand why he thinks so. The palette is no more difficult than Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe and the vocal lines no more so than Der Rosenkavalier. I find myself enjoying repeatedly this tale of demons, a pair of lovers, the lovers and demons caught up in some intrigue which leads to a sacrificial death. You know, the kind of piece where the owls “sing in praise of the gradual victory of evil” and “salesmen buy the souls of those who don’t want to starve or flee.” Of course, innocence wins out. There are sections which are musically memorable and it is perhaps even more hummable than Das Ring. Some of the long-sloping slurs recall Britten as well. The booklet contains striking black and white photos of the performance: the demons in animal form, one of Borkh’s eyes nearly popping out in hypnotic mania, and one of Egk, Borkh and Szell poring over the score or some other book (the photo is fuzzy).
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