Lorin Maazel, one of the most high-achieving and highly paid orchestral conductors of the past half-century, died on Sunday at his home in Virginia in the United States, after suffering complications from pneumonia. He was 84.
Maazel was music director of a gallery of top orchestras in Europe and the United States including Cleveland, Paris and Munich for more than 40 years, and had been chief conductor of opera houses in West Berlin and Vienna too. His last major post was as music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 2001- 2009, during which he led the orchestra on a controversial and ground breaking visit to Pyongyang, North Korea.
Twenty years ago it would have seemed perverse to call Harrison Birtwistle a profoundly British composer. The man who shocked Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh festival in the 1960s with the uncompromisingly aggressive sound world of his first opera, Punch and Judy, and was still able to scandalise the Last Night of the Proms with his saxophone concerto Panic 30 years later, hardly seemed a natural successor to composers such as Elgar, Holst and Delius, all of whom died in 1934, the year of Birtwistle's birth. But now as we celebrate his 80th birthday on Tuesday, we realise how Birtwistle is as much a pastoral composer as Holst, George Butterworth or Vaughan Williams. The landscapes his music explores are much darker and more compromised than the blue-remembered hills of those 20th-century predecessors, but they are part of an elemental world that has deep roots in his native culture, and is as powerfully distinctive as that of any composer alive today.
The first of Buxton's full-scale festival stagings, Dvoák's comedy has not been regularly performed in the UK though some may recall productions by Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera in 1980 and 1995 respectively. This month's revival, however, shows it to be an eminently viable piece, made more immediately attractive through the use of Rodney Blumer's excellent translation.
The setting is Bohemia at the time of the French revolution, when the elderly Count Harasova is about to hand over his power and dominions to his wicked nephew, Adolf. The nephew has convinced Harasova that his son, Bohu, sympathetic to progressive social policies, is in effect a dangerous revolutionary, aided and abetted by his suspiciously French wife, Julie. How the count is disabused of this false notion and reconciled with his offspring forms the main thrust of the action.
First performances of new pieces were greeted by highly enthusiastic, full houses in the vibrant last weekend of Cheltenham's music festival. Drawing from the remarkable wildlife and soundscape recordings of environmentalist Bernie Krause, Richard Blackford's The Great Animal Orchestra, a five-movement "bio-symphony" for orchestra, was premiered at the Town Hall by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Martyn Brabbins. The sounds of the creatures from a pack of wolves howling to insects to the musician wren were arresting, galvanising us into listening anew to living soundscapes from around the world. Blackford's own music, for all its energy, could not compete. Yet, in the evocative central Elegy, where the anguished cry of a lone beaver whose dam and family had been dynamited is taken up by the mournful bassoon, the message was clear: this is a world that man is doing its best to obliterate; if we don't recognise or celebrate it, it will die.
After that consciousness-raising experience of planet Earth, Brabbins's uncompromising delivery of Holst's symphonic suite The Planets, which the Cheltenham-born composer wrote exactly a century ago, underlined its pioneering spirit.
Q My large (1,500-strong) CD collection consists of classical music and jazz. If I were to rip the collection as a backup to an external drive and/or place the files in the cloud, I would want to retain the quality with Aiff/Wav or compression to Apple Lossless (m4a) with the idea of being able to convert back to the uncompressed original in due course. Do you think this is practicable? Also, would Apple Lossless be the best format to choose to temporarily compress Aiff or Wav files for storage, in order to uncompress them for playback later? Also, to stream music to hi-fi etc, are these files the best formats to use, or are they problematical? Michael, via email
Composed by an Italian, reworked from a German play based on a nonexistent episode in British history, Maria Stuarda has always suffered an identity crisis. Music aside a rather big aside since Donizetti's score is the reason we care about this opera at all nothing is authentic except on its own terms. Schiller's play about Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I has a large cast and concentrates on religion and politics. Donizetti's opera reduces the cast to six and makes love and female enmity the focus.
These factors make Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's eclectic new staging for the Royal Opera understandable if not wholly defensible. For "eclectic" others might prefer potpourri, gallimaufry, dog's dinner or claptrap, to judge from reports of the first night, which was roundly booed (production, not singers). It is hard to see what the fuss was about. On the second night, for the record, there were no boos.
The works "lithe" and "Bruckner" don't tend to go together. Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra force you to break with habit. This account of the expansive Seventh Symphony is at once vigorous and lean. Dedicated to Wagner's patron, Ludwig II of Bavaria, it exists in countless famous recordings, some nearly 10 minutes longer than Fischer's. The Adagio is marked "very solemnly and very slowly". Fischer skims over the "very", increasing the pace and, in this clear, detailed performance, bringing a glowing transparency to the work. The sound quality is superb. It won't be to all tastes. It suits mine.
The Edinburgh-based Ensemble Marsyas have made a speciality of the neglected wind music of the 18th century, and here they unearth some spectacularly virtuosic pieces featuring recorder, bassoon and horn by the little-known Johann Friedrich Fasch. This may not be the most startling or inventive music harmonically, but they use the resources of their chosen instruments brilliantly. While Pamela Thorby's recorder is crisp and reliable, the real star is Peter Whelan's bassoon, burbling through its vast range with dancing precision, underpinning the quartets and shining in a C major concerto whose central Largo pits lyrical soloist against slashing string chords.
This highly personal selection of Schubert songs from peerless baritone Christian Gerhaher is perhaps epitomised in his approach to Frühlingsglaube (Faith in Spring), at once intensely optimistic for a brighter future for the world and yet quietly introspective and unaccountably sad. Schubert was 23 when he wrote it, unaware that he had only eight years to live; Gerhaher invests the song with that knowledge and breaks our hearts. Beautifully judged playing from pianist Gerold Huber supports the silky lightness of Gerhaher at his most intimate in these 24 songs; though there are flashes of steel beneath the gossamer that are all the more exciting for their sparse deployment.
A patriotic opera in Russia's second city of St Petersburg has attempted to cement Moscow's disputed control over Crimea in music at least.
Crimea, the opera, is a boisterous new work celebrating the Kremlin's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
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