Critic’s Classical Choices

     (THE VITTES REPORT) –  It is hard to find an authentically “German” performance of Brahms at his most epic, tragic and dramatic, and it is these qualities alone which reveal the core of the man in his music.

     Furtw√§ngler, of course, set the standard very high. Here, the always imaginative and earnest Harnoncourt treats the music as if it could be deconsecrated from the composer and become an object of high-level entertainment rather than the deeply personal utterances of a man who knew the depths of sadness and pain.

     Still the Viennese forces achieve wonders of light-through-clouds that is very magical with its depictions of the forces of evil (even if less cataclysmically than Brahms deserves) and the countering angelic energy that is meant to console and dissipate the listener’s sorrows. Brahms German Requiem, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, Genia K√ºhmeier, soprano, and Thomas Hampson, bass, RCA Red Seal (aka Sony Music).

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      “Biber’s Mystery Sonatas” is one of the answers you need to have ready when visiting the classical music speakeasies that are spring up everywhere, from Torrance to Zakopane. Here, a blonde bombshell named Julia Wedman digs into every note, every phrase, as is she were a young nun stricken suddenly with remorse for all the things she had done in her life before entering the convent. The repetitively rapturous moods Biber unleashes, responding to the 15 “mysteries” of the Catholic rosary, has come to define an iconic point in classical music time. The recording can take volume if you want to show off a new set of speakers, but it also works with the volume set just above. Saskatooner Wedman and her spectacular team (they know about 17th century German ecstasy in Saskatoon) take indecent advantage of the deliberate mistunings (like Cage’s prepared pianos) Biber asks Julia to engage in. Biber Mystery Sonatas, Julia Wedman, Felix Deak, Lucas Harris, Charlotte Nediger, Julia  Seager-Scott Sono Luminus, 2 CDs.

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      It’s not difficult to understand the current craze for Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, as it carries on, unabated, with frequent brilliant recordings of the 3 lonely 12-tone warriors who must have wondered about the terrible results their work could lead to, like the atom bomb men in the desert during WWII.

     Despite the warmth and precision of the playing, and the near miraculous sound, what I hear is the death throes of the late German romantic ejaculation that persists even in Berg. Only does Webern sound “modern.” Not to be sneered at for romancing sweethearts at home and late at night. Low lights and low volume help the effect. Berg. Webern. Schoenberg, Quatuor Diotima, contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, soprano Sandrine Piau, Na√Øve.

 Laurence Vittes is a 40-year veteran as a music and performing arts critic, providing his expertise to the Art-to-Art Palette Journal, including the Gramophone, Hollywood Reporter, Strings, HuffPost Arts, Music Web International and Audiophile Audition.  In addition, he co-hosts with Alexey Steele the Classical Underground concerts in Torrance, California, 20 miles south of Walt Disney Concert Hall.




Published by on February 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Marketplace Guide, Two Sisters Bookmart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Comments for “Critic’s Classical Choices”

  1. The Vittes Report offers not only the unusual, but also a very educated approach to the classical music world. Great new column for Art-to-Art Palette Journal

  2. Congrats! Great photo Laurence and great reviews! Best always, Sandra Cooper

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