From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Has anyone lately seen Edvard Grieg? The song of Norway has gone a bit quiet since the record industry stopped pumping out Grieg’s piano concerto as an automatic companion to Schumann’s and the hall of the mountain kings got converted into social housing. These twin peaks and the Peer Gynt incidental music aside, there’s not much Grieg left to perform and what there is has fallen out of fashion. It’s been all Norvège nul points the last few years…..

More here.

The artistic director of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Raoul Lay resigned today, saying he was being prevented from doing his job.

The orchestra’s chairman Sigmond Mifsud said: ‘A few days ago, the board of directors decided to terminate his job during the probation period as it felt he was not meeting expectations.’

Nothing in Malta is what it seems.

Read here.

The labour court in Erfurt, eastern Germany, has ordered the local opera house to reopen the position of music director after irregularities in the selection process. The intervention follows an appeal by a Swiss conductor, whose application was rejected.

It’s a messy case.

Details here.

The previous MD was the high-flying Joana Mallwitz.

 

Message from the Opéra de Paris:

The performances of Manon and Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne scheduled for today, Saturday 29 February, have been cancelled.

Due to the continuation of the national strike movement against pension reform, which may be followed by certain members of Paris Opera staff, we endeavour to inform spectators as early as possible in case of disturbance or cancellation of performances.

Actually, this was a very late notification. Paris is in chaos.

 

We hear that tonight‘s sold-out performance of Salome at Luzerner Theater is to be performed with piano accompaniment in place of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra was recently on tour in northern Italy and has been deemed unsafe to perform by the Canton of Lucerne.

Intendant Benedikt von Peter asked pianist and head of music staff, Valeriya Polunina to replace the orchestra at the piano.

Polunina is a graduate of the Juilliard School and Lindemann Program at the Metropolitan Opera.

Elsewhere, Zurich, Geneva and other opera houses have committed to play to audiences of below 900 in order to conform to draconian Givernment measures resticting public gatherings to 1,000.

 

 

The German virtuoso Hans Deinzer died on February 26 at the age of 86.

He was the inspiration and premiere giver of Pierre Boulez’s “Domaines” .

In 30 years of teaching at Hannover, his students included Sabine Meyer, Martin Fröst, Andrew Marriner and Michele Zukovsky.

 

The author never had a TV at home while growing up.

Now he has written a book for kids and the music to go with it.

Then he got my pal’s band, the Zagreb Festival Orchestra, to record it.

The Wild Symphony launches in September.

 

Welcome to the 39th work in the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Edition

Piano sonatas 9 and 10, opus 14, no 11 opus 22 (1798-1800)

Regression is extraordinarily rare in Beethoven’s output. He seems to take a giant stride forward with each work and never to look back. So it’s almost a relief to find that, coming towards the end of his early period, he wrote a set of piano sonatas that were intended for home use, easy enough for a half-trained amateur to knock off on the family upright after lunch. The opus 14 sonatas are inscribed to Baroness Josephine von Braun, wife of the head of what would become the Vienna Opera, and they are so disarmingly simple to play you wonder if great minds of the instrument might have found in them some mysterious hidden depths.

Maurizio Pollini (2013) one of the most serious contemplators of the Beethoven sonatas, fails in the ninth sonata. His boundless technique, applied to a folktune opening (is it My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean?) reminds me of a brain-surgeon’s scalpel being used to crack open a peanut. Andras Schiff (2006) is a little more playful, but the effort to amuse becomes tiresome as the work progresses. Murray Perahia (2008) tries some blood and thunder, to the same limited effect. Richard Goode (1993) is very good indeed without fully engaging the listener’s heart and mind. Artur Schnabel (1932) plays it like a walk in the park.

Before I sound too dismissive, the Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt (whose recording is not yet on Idagio) points out in a sleeve note that ‘small hands will have difficulty with bars 17–20 and breaking the chords is musically not very satisfying…. The sforzando alternations between G natural and G sharp in bars 46–49 must be brought out while the inner part remains piano, and the bass a determined forte. The notes aren’t complicated, but their characterization is.’ Hewitt is surprised to find ‘how close the writing is to that for a string quartet’. Myself, I don’t hear that.

Matters don’t much improve with its companion piece, the tenth sonata. The opening looks back determinedly to the sonatas of Joseph Haydn, where the sun is always shining and there’s a lovely young maiden bringing a two-foot glass of beer to a thirsty composer (I may exaggerate, but you get the idea). Given the lack of complextity, I thought I’d listen to some lesser-known interpreters – Saleem Abboud Ashkar, for instance, a Palestinian-Israeli Christian from Nazareth who recorded four Beethoven sonatas for Deccca in 2017. Without knowing much about him, I was reminded of Daniel Barenboim who, it turns out, has been his mentor. For sheer freshness, I preferred Saleem to Barenboim’s 1984 recording, made at about the same age.

Not far down the road, there’s Einav Yarden of Tel Aviv, a student of Leon Fleisher’s at Baltimore, now teaching in Germany. Lovely, warm tone, not much by way of humour in the nursery-rhyme middle movement. The Lebanese Abdel Rahman El Bacha has recorded all 32 sonatas on the Mirare label; he’s very fast in this one, ideal for your morning workout.

Daniel-Ben Pienaar, a South African now teaching at London’s Royal Academy of Music, has levity in the opening movement, growing heavier as the work progresses. Konstantin Lifschitz adds wit to the picture. A Russian-Jewish pianist living in Switzerland, his 2019 recording in Hong Kong has an abundance of character, almost too much for this flimsy piece. But I prefer his reading to such heavyweights as Igor Levit who seem to be playing for posterity. Lifschitz deserves more applause than he gets at the end of this recital.

Prepare for a revelation. Trudelies Leonhardt, sister of the Dutch early-music master gives an absolutely stunning Haydneqsque reading of this harmless sonata on as deep-voiced fortepiano. I would also urge you to enter the richly coloured world of the Canadian pianistLouis Lortie who, in recording the 32 sonatas, leaves no phrase unplumbed for inner meaning.

When all’s said and done, though, the only pianist who consistently challenges and surprises us in these determinedly unchallenging and unsurprising sonatas is the unfathomable and insuperable Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter who, at tempi and dynamics that are entirely his own, recreates whatever music he touches in a manner that is unteachable and does not bear imitation. This Decca recording from 1963 takes us places that Beethoven never imagined.

Beethoven gets back on track with his 11th sonata, the one he was most proud of among his early efforts. The opening phrase delares it to be a big statement and, while the sonata is not known to the public as a major milestone, many pianists look upon it as such. In the middle of the 20th century it was said to be practically unplayed, returning to the British concert hall through the advocacy of John Lill and Bernard Roberts, neither of whom are found on Idagio. My starting point is Louis Lortie (1998) with a youthful freshness that conceals structural assurance. His hushed storytelling in the slow movement is masterly, suggesting deep tensions beneath an apparently untroubled surface. This is music making at the very highest level – a realm occupied on record by the likes of Brendel, Ashkenazy, Kempff, Gulda and Arrau.

You need to listen to Maria Grinburg, in terrible Soviet studio sound, just to hear how Beethoven can sound when an artist gives no thought to safety or career, just to preserving an early-Russian style that, she must have known, would not survive contact with the material world. Richter is als wonderful and Lifschitz needs to be heard. When all is said and played, though, in this sonata I will always return to Emil Gilels. He says it all. Just listen.

 

*
For your weekend reading, I would like to direct you to the website of the Beethoven House in Bonn, where Jessica Duchen offers a guided tour in how Beethoven’s image changed down the years – from handsome youth to gruesome monster. Jessica writes: I’ve seen descriptions of him as “physically ugly” time and again. But those Young Beethoven images – why? Physically ugly? No: he is strong, characterful and full of charisma. Besides, the attraction of a male musical star has never depended upon classic good looks (I’ve not noticed Hollywood-style matinée idols among the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or any recent pop singers, for instance…). Just because he was short and dark, that is no reason that Josephine or Julie or any other female would have failed to be magnetised by him.
Read on here.

Five years ago we reported that Pittsburgh and Boston were both in pursuit of Oliver Aldort, a student at Curtis.

He havered for a while, then chose the Boston Symphony.

Where he disappeared into the ranks and might never have been heard of again but for a success at the latest audition.

Arise again, Oliver, now 26.

He has been appointed Assistant Principal Cello of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Principal Cello of the Boston Pops.

The opera house in Zurich has decided to stay open, avoiding the government closure order on places of public performance by admitting fewer than 900 audience members to each show.

The government ban is on gatherings of more than 1,000.

Zurich Opera says: ‘In consultation with the cantonal doctor, the canton of Zurich then explicitly permitted events with fewer than 1,000 people in the canton of Zurich. Against this background, the performances planned at the Zurich Opera House will take place with a maximum of 900 spectators until further notice.’

Aktueller Beschluss des Kantons Zürich
Der Kantonsarzt hat Veranstaltungen mit weniger als 1000 Personen im Kanton Zürich explizit erlaubt. Die im Opernhaus Zürich geplanten Vorstellungen werden bis auf Weiteres mit maximal 900 Zuschauerinnen und Zuschauern stattfinden. Wir beobachten laufend die Situation und werden Sie in enger Absprache mit den kantonalen Behörden umgehend über Neuigkeiten informieren.

 

The death has been announced of the violinist Irina Bochkova, placed second with Shmuel Ashkenasi in the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition and a member of its jury many times since.

Irina, who was 81, was a concertmaster with the Moscow State Academic Philharmonic and a teacher at the Moscow State Conservatoire.

Her students include  Elena Revich and Olga Volkova.

 

From my monthly essay in The Critic:

The music of Jewish prayer, like that of the Christian church, exists largely thanks to Reformation. Century after Christian century, Pope after Pope banned anything livelier than Gregorian chant in church until Martin Luther nailed up a competitive liturgy and composers decorated it with tunes. Luther, himself a composer, wrote some 30 chorales. His setting of “Ein feste Burg” — a mighty fortress is our Lord — remains a cornerstone of Evangelical worship….

Lost in this mainstream narrative is the role of music in Jewish worship, a history that remains a closed book to the majority of Jews and musicians. The subject has acquired a sudden topicality with the unforeseen involvement of two major record labels. Briefly, it’s a sob story…

Read on here, with heavenly sound examples.

And here’s one he sang earlier: