MEMBERS’ CHOICE 4th May 2016
Norman had volunteered to collate the various selections and put them into a sequence which he hoped we would enjoy. We began with Eileen’s choices which were two extracts from Bizet’s Carmen. First the Entr’acte to Act III: the scene is a wild place in the mountains, the smugglers’ hideaway where barrels of contraband lie about. Then the Entr’acte to Act IV: A square in Seville, at the back the walls of an ancient amphitheatre. Bizet had never visited Spain but he utilised various folk melodies and works by Spanish composers in the score. Carmen was the world’s most performed opera for many years added Norman, now it is probably La Traviata. The orchestra here was Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari.
John and Hilary had kindly selected pieces even though they would be away for this evening. John had Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia with the Suisse Romande Orchestra under Ernest Ansermet.
Hilary had an unusual number – from a disc by Aled Jones, a traditional song called The Rowan Tree. Thanks to modern technology (or perhaps not so modern now) we heard Aled as he is now and as a boy singer, with the New Zealand Sinfonietta.
The Rowan Tree was written by Lady Caroline Nairne (1766 to 1845) who penned such classic Scotch songs as “Will Ye No Come Back Again” and “Charlie is my Darling”. Her family were staunch supporters of the Jacobite cause and she was named after the Young Pretender. Her poems and songs were originally published under the pseudonym Mrs Bogan of Bogan.
Now, said Norman, a chance to hear the wonderful voices of Jussi Bjoerling and Robert Merrill. It was the classic recording of the Pearl Fishers’ Duet Au Fond du Temple Saint. Recorded in 1950 it is still the benchmark against which all other versions are measured. [The RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Renato Cellini.] This had been Sheila’s selection.
Norma had suggested two possible pieces and there was scope to include both. First was the slow movement (Adagio) from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. The soloist was Michael Whight, principal clarinettist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, whom we heard here, conducted by Nicholas Cleobury. “What an absolutely beautiful piece that is”, said Norman.
Norma’s second choice was The Swan from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. It was played by Guber and Suber Pekinel (pianos) with the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Mark Janowsky. More lovely soft tuneful music.
Ivan (as so often) came up with something rather less well known: Arensky’s Piano Trio Opus 32. The CD coupled this with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio Opus 50. The notes explained that Tchaikovsky’s trio was written following the death of Nicolai Rubinstein, with whom he had a love-hate relationship, whereas Arensky’s was written following the death of the cellist Karl Davidoff. Arensky, (1861 to 1906), had a close relationship with Tchaikovsky, who was 21 years older. Tchaikovsky even forfeited performances of his own works so that his younger colleague’s could be included. In Tchaikovsky’s Trio the piano dominates but in Arensky’s (appropriately) the cello.
Ivan had suggested either the first or final (fourth) movement, but we had time to hear both. They were played by the Ashkenazy Piano Trio – Vovka Ashkenazy (piano), Richard Stamper (violin) and Christine Jackson (cello).
To take us to the interval, as there had not been enough selections, Norman gave us another chance to hear Jussi Bjoerling, in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Tu, Tu, Amore? Tu? Also singing was Renato Tebaldi and the orchestra was the Rome Opera conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.
We began with another version of The Swan, this time played by Jacqueline Du Pre (cello) and Osian Ellis (harp). In fact, Norman invited us beforehand to work out if we could who was playing. It made an interesting comparison. (The CD also noted that the recording was made on 21st July 1962 at No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, Norman told us!)
Rosalie’s selection was also probably unfamiliar to most of us: Wolf-Ferrari’s Violin Concerto opus 26. We heard the first movement (Fantasia) and second (Romanza).
Wolf-Ferrari (1876 to 1948) was born in Venice of an Italian mother and a German father. Initially he studied to be a painter only later changing to music. Before the First World War he had been dividing his time between Munich and Venice, now he found those two countries at war. He moved to Zurich and composed much less. After the war his music was darker and more melancholic. There is probably a case to hear more of his compositions. The violinist here was Ulf Hoelscher with the Radio-Sinfonie Orchestra of Frankfurt under the baton of Alun Francis.
“We can never have enough music for violin”, said Norman.
Mike’s choice came from a CD entitled “Liszt at the Opera”. It consists of piano transcriptions from operas – in Liszt’s time this was one of the few ways that many people could get to hear the music from famous operas. This particular one was the Pope’s Benediction and Cellini’s Oath from Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini (Benediction et Serment). Norman said he knew nothing about this opera but he could say it was an astounding piece of piano playing. The pianist was the great Liszt specialist, Leslie Howard.
To complete the evening, Norman chose another piece from that same disc – coincidentally it was one that Mike had considered as an alternative to the Berlioz – it was the Reminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor, by Donizetti. It takes the sextet from Act II – something which Norman had played to us before in its original version.
Mike thanked Norman for collating all the music and giving us such an enjoyable evening.