Giving a maestro his due • Libretto lost in translation • Sound and quality
McKellar on disc Jeremy Nicholas’s appreciative obituary of Kenneth McKellar (July, page 9) might also have mentioned his two fine Handel recordings, of the tenor part in Messiah and a recital of arias, both with Sir Adrian Boult – surely the most significant items in his sadly small classical legacy.
The 1965 production of Britten’s version of The Beggar’s Opera, in which McKellar plays Macheath, was broadcast by BBC television. Is it possible that a tape survives that could be reissued? If my memory can be trusted, the cast included two young women near the start of their careers, Heather Harper and Janet Baker. And I dream that a recording will turn up one day of a 1960s Edinburgh Festival performance by McKellar that I never heard but that received enthusiastic reviews: of Schumann’s Dichterliebe – in broad Scots! Donald Mackinnon Northants, UK
Late, great maestro I regard Wyn Morris (Obituary, June, page 9) as Britain’s finest native-born conductor saving only Beecham and Goodall. Morris’s Beethoven conducting was exhilarating, his Mahler
Wyn Morris: more than merely a Mahlerian
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Plea for Butterworth I want to echo John Steane’s and Mark Stone’s comments about George Butterworth (June, page 89), and to praise the enterprising Mr Stone, who has brought us all the composer’s extant songs in such a well-produced package.
Can we now expect someone to bring out Butterworth’s remaining unrecorded works? These are the Suite for string quartet, In the Highlands for female voices and piano, and two folksong arrangements for choir. All the music is available in modern editions, so it is puzzling why these pieces (the Suite especially) remain unrecorded, given the popularity of the Shropshire Lad pieces (both the songs and the orchestral rhapsody) and The Banks of Green Willow. Butterworth was a talented composer, with a gift that was special for creating atmosphere; it would be a shame not to hear the full range of what he left us. Phillip Brookes Market Drayton, Shropshire, UK
Mark Stone: championing Butterworth
WIN £50 VOUCHERS www.prestoclassical.co.uk is a website that speaks your language, “underpinned by an evident love of music and the world of recordings” (Gramophone). No other site selling classical CDs and DVDs is arranged in such a logical and accessible format, where you can easily find lists of composers’ works, compare different exceptional, whether his London performances of the Ninth and Tenth symphonies, which were deeply moving occasions, or his extraordinary 1974 quadraphonic recording of the Fifth – which no other conductor has bettered – or his Blumine options, view recommendations and read reviews. We firmly believe that you will find it one of the most user-friendly classical music sites on the internet. the letter of the month receives £50 of Presto Classical gift vouchers and Das Klagende Lied (searing, emotional performances at the Royal Albert Hall). But Wyn Morris was more, much more, than a brilliant Beethoven and Mahler conductor. At the Royal Albert Hall he gave a memorable performance of Delius’s Sea Drift,
and made an exceptional record (for Symphonica, 1978) of two Wagner and Bruckner “firsts”: the former’s Das Liebesmahl des Apostel and the latter’s Helgoland. Dr Martin Pulbrook Mullingar, Ireland
Lost in translation In the Fifties and Sixties we used to have a lot of politically incorrect fun at the expense of the heroic translators of east European opera librettos, who seemed to have nothing more than the old Baedeker travellers’ phrasebook to guide them through the bandit country of the English language. Somebody at Gracenote – clearly Anglophone into the bargain – is quietly building on their achievements. I recently fed Smetana’s Dv∆ vdovy into my computer, to find that, instead of “Two Widows”, the first disc came out as “Two Windows”. Someone else at Gracenote had thought this might not be quite right and had, for the second disc, translated this into French, the language of the original source of the libretto, as “Les deux fenêtres”. The Two Ronnies could hardly have improved on this. Jim Brennan, via e-mail
Chapter and verse “What was the title of Kobbé’s novel (Gustav Kobbé, he of the Complete Opera Book)?” asks John Steane in his review of the new Carmen (June, page 94). “Was it not All of a sudden Carmen or something of that sportive sort?” While chuckling, I hate to disappoint Mr Steane, whose reviews have instructed and entertained me these 20 years; but the tale by “the American music critic and operatic lexicographer” was entitled Signora (New York: Thomas Y Crowell, 1902), after the waif adopted in orphanhood
GRAMOPHONE august 2010
www.gramophone.co.uk by an opera house custodian. She grows up coached by the great French soprano Caravé (ie Emma Calvé), and, in the grand finale, playing Carmen to a Don José inflamed with genuine jealousy, Signora narrowly escapes a real knife thanks to a faithful Escamillo. But who wouldn’t rather read the “sportier” version which Mr Steane’s echt Carmenesque title conjures up? Warren Keith Wright Arbyrd, MI, US
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Sound of the music Mr Kennicott is an enviable person. As I gather (June, page 22), he is one of those music lovers with the mysterious ability to listen through “the surface quality of sound”, and thus to appreciate equally recordings from the 1930s and the 1990s, something that doesn’t cease to amaze me. After all, music is sound, and only sound. So if one listens through its surface quality, what does one find underneath? Some musical quintessence hidden to less gifted audiophiles of my type? It’s a bit like saying one can look at Mona Lisa through a pane of frosted glass and still detect every nuance of her smile.
I can hardly believe it, and suspect different mechanisms are at work here. I wonder if nostalgia and mythology play their part. But maybe, too, many very old recordings are so much admired because their inadequate sound leaves us enough room to project our own ideals into the music (what Mr Kennicott calls “filling in the missing data”). In modern recordings we hear exactly what daniele Barioni: no tucker he we get; such recordings are not rarely faulted on the basis of details and nuances that are crude if not inaudible in their historical competition. I for one find sound quality of supreme importance. Martien Philipse Nijmegen, Netherlands
Collectors’ paradise I read with great interest James Jolly’s report on Western classical music in Tokyo (May, page 122) which concluded with Mr Jolly’s comment on Shibuya’s Tower Records as being an “Aladdin’s Cave with some truly mouthwatering historic recordings, as well as a terrific series of Tower’s own reissues”.
Indeed: Mr Jolly’s comment barely reflects the depth and breadth in which the legacy of Western classical music and “once-forgotten” musicians are kept alive in the East. For instance, where else but in Japan can one find on CD the reissue (by Tower Records Japan) of Edith PichtAxenfeld’s RCA recording of the Chopin Etudes? Anybody visiting Japan will be able to tell that classical music is alive and well and its future lies in the East. Phan Ming Yen Singapore
Lost, a tenor After buying the otherwise excellent series of opera releases on the Walhall label, imagine my surprise when on my most recent purchase of Cavalleria rusticana (WLCD0257), the tenor who is mentioned on the booklet is not the one who actually sings on the disc. The tenor voice is not that of Richard Tucker but belongs to Daniele Barioni who sang often with the conductor here, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and who at the time was touring America and Canadian theatres. AR Baker Porth, South Wales, UK
Competition the may covermount competition invited you to name the group wishing Gramophone a happy 87th birthday. many of you readily identified the inimitable king’s singers and the lucky winner is Roderick Lawford of swindon, uk, who wins a selection of cds.
www.gramophone.co.uk o b i t u a r i e s yvonne Loriod Pianist Born January 20, 1924 Died May 19, 2010
Yvonne Loriod, wife of composer Olivier Messiaen for the last three decades of his life, met her future husband when she was his teenage student at the Paris Conservatoire (they married in 1961, two years after the death of Messiaen’s first wife Claire Delbos), and her prodigious pianism and well grounded musicianship inspired his large-scale piano works from the Vingt Regards sur l’EnfantJésus and Catalogue d’oiseaux cycles to the substantial piano parts in orchestral works such as the Turangalîla-Symphonie, Oiseaux exotiques, Trois petits liturgies de la Presence Divine and Des canyons aux étoiles.
Loriod frequently performed and recorded her husband’s music but she also commanded a large, all-embracing repertoire, some of which is preserved on disc. In 1964 she played 22 Mozart concertos over a five-week period with the Lamoureux Orchestra, and gave the French premiere of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, learning the piece with only eight days’ notice. A fervent advocate for the music of her time, Loriod premiered the second sonatas of Boulez and Jolivet and Barraqué’s Sonata in concert and on disc.
She instilled this duty in her students at the Paris Conservatoire, where she taught from 1967: “I have all my young pianists playing the young composers,” she told a New York Times journalist. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Paul Crossley and
Roger Muraro are just a few of her distinguished former pupils. Loriod is survived by her sister Jacqueline. Jed Distler giuseppe taddei baritone Born June 26, 1916 Died June 2, 2010 “Oh my beloved Taddei!” ventured Philip Hope-Wallace on air one afternoon in the early post-war years, remarking on the sudden popularity of the new baritone. And certainly Gianni Schicchi was one of his best parts, and it was an opera that remained in his repertoire. He had made a promising debut at Rome in 1936 but after the war became a favourite in Vienna, admired for his charismatic stage presence as for his warm, resonant voice. He later took his place in the casts assembled by Walter Legge for Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, where he sang Leporello.
At Covent Garden his roles were Macbeth, Rigoletto, Iago and Scarpia (all of them dominated in Taddei’s best singing years by Tito Gobbi). On records, too, he took second place, for Decca (which might have looked to him as its answer to EMI’s Gobbi) preferred Ettore Bastianini. All the same, he was universally recognised as one of the leading baritones of his time.
In later years his voice became less well focused; but we can always go back to that Schicchi of 1949 (recently reissued on Preiser) and (mentally at least) sing along with the critic of years past in melodious praise. John Steane
GRAMOPHONE august 2010