Sunday, March 24, 2013

Angeles Chorus premieres Paul McCartney

By Douglas Neslund

An ambitious and well-attended performance – the first-ever on the West Coast – of “Ecce Cor Meum” by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was undertaken by the spirited Angeles Chorale in the large space provided by Pasadena’s United Methodist Church. The 100-voiced chorus, under the baton of John Sutton, was augmented by the Concert Choir of Pasadena’s Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, well-prepared as always by their Artistic Director, Anne Tomlinson.

A 30-member Sinfonia did their collective best, but in the end, only added confusion to chaos: without a reference score, one would never know whether the musicians were playing the “right” notes … or not.  And the uncredited and excellent “Bach trumpeter” was allowed far too much volume in much of his work.

Ecce” is said to be a personal statement of “spiritual confession of sorts” that devolves into a chaotic mélange of noise (and sometimes sound) spread over too much time. As the composer himself described: “… I started writing the music and then putting my own text to it, which is probably completely the wrong way around to do it. It didn’t matter. I suppose, you know, in that respect, it meant that it was a bit less conventional.” The left-handed Mr. McCartney’s confession includes such happy babble as this:

“We may find a trace
Of a state of grace
In the saddest face
Something is there.

How the rivers flow
We may never know
But it goes to show
Something is there.”

The work, ostentatiously called an “oratorio” was written and revised over a period of eight years, and declared finished by the composer in 2001. There is a reason why the West Coast Premiere didn’t find a home until 2013. Melodies, as such, were hard to detect; any sense of musical structure impossible to sort out. “Through-composed” comes closest to the meandering framework, but after 45 minutes of “through-composed” one longed for a bit of form. It’s weak tea.

But one must applaud the Angeles Chorale and associated personnel for their bravery. One of the highlights were the children, who added gravitas to notes above the treble staff - and there were lots of stratospheric notes - giving the women of the Chorus a chance to save their voices for more exposed portions. 

Another highlight was soprano soloist Virenia Lind, whose duties were brief and difficult to hear over an orchestral accompaniment allowed to play too loudly. But what one could hear was a pure, floating sound that grew rich in lower tessitura.

Throughout, Dr. Sutton kept all in order, except for the clap-happy crowd, which ignored his movement-ending gesture requesting silence.

After intermission, a rock band replaced the Sinfonia, the children were relinquished to their parents, and the audience thinned. What followed was a trip through the 1960s phenomenon called the Beatles. It was a time when Mr. McCartney and fellow bandsmen wrote melodies, yes … melodies! And they were very good at it, the proof being the fact we remember those tunes even today.

Dr. Sutton invited all to join a sing-along on “When I’m Sixty-Four” (a look in the rear view mirror for a lot of attendees) and “Yellow Submarine.” The remaining dozen tunes were all familiar and enthusiastically performed. Many of the songs were incorrectly attributed in the concert program to McCartney, but only “Lady Madonna” and a portion of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were claimed on his own website.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"lorraine" - a recording for the ages

This one is personal for the writer. Losing a mother and sister to breast cancer leaves holes in the family fabric, empty chairs at family holiday gatherings, and a sadness that never quite goes away. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the mezzo-soprano featured in this album of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, died in 2006 at the age of 52 from the disease.

In a live 2003 performance, Ms. Lieberson paired with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s solo cantata, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut”, BWV 199, conducted by LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane.  

The pietistic text seems to indulge in over-the-top sentimentality to the ears of today, but in the times and places where it was sung, delivered a jarring message of self-awareness and associated suffering, relieved only by confession and spiritual renewal:

1.         Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo

Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, weil mich der Sünden Brut in Gottes heil’gen Augen zum Ungeheuer macht. Und mein Gewissen fühlet Pein, weil mir die Sünden nichts als Höllenhenker sein. Verhaßte Lasternacht! Du, du allein hast mich in solche Not gebracht; und du, du böser Adamssamen, raubst meiner Seele alle Ruh und schließest ihr den Himmel zu! Ach! unerhörter Schmerz! Mein ausgedorrtes Herz will ferner mehr kein Trost befeuchten, und ich muß mich vor dem verstecken, vor dem die Engel selbst ihr Angesicht verdecken.

My heart swims in blood because reflecting on my sins in God's holy eyes makes me into a monster. And my conscience feels pain because my sins are nothing but Hell's hangmen. Detested night of vice! You, you alone have brought me into such distress; and you, you evil seed of Adam, rob my soul of all inner peace and shut me off from heaven! Ah! unbelievable pain! My withered heart will in future be moistened by no comfort and I must conceal myself from him before whom the angels conceal their faces.

2.        Aria and Recitative     Oboe solo, Continuo (con Violone)

Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen, ihr mögt meine Schmerzen sagen, weil der Mund geschlossen ist.  Und ihr nassen Tränenquellen könnt ein sich’res Zeugnis stellen, könnt ein sich’res Zeugnis stellen, wie mein sündlich Herz gebüßt. Mein Herz ist itzt ein Tränenbrunn, die Augen heiße Quellen. Ach Gott! wer wird dich doch zufriedenstellen?

Silent sighs, quiet moans, you may tell of my pains, since my mouth is closed. And your wet springs of tears can offer certain witness of how my sinful heart has repented. My heart is now a well of tears, my eyes, hot springs. Ah God! Who then will give you satisfaction!

3.        Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)

Doch Gott muß mir gnädig sein, weil ich das Haupt mit Asche, das Angesicht mit Tränen wasche. Mein Herz in Reu und Leid zerschlage und voller Wehmut sage: Gott sei mir Sünder gnädig! Ach ja! sein Herze bricht, und meine Seele spricht:

But God must be gracious to me because I wash my head with ashes and my face with tears, I beat my heart in remorse and sorrow and full of grief say: God, be gracious to me, a sinner! Ah yes! his heart breaks and my soul says:

4.        Aria  Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)

Tief gebückt und voller Reue lieg ich, liebster Gott, vor dir.  Ich bekenne meine Schuld, aber habe doch Geduld, habe doch Geduld mit mir!

Deeply bowed and full of remorse I lie, dearest God, before you. I acknowledge my guilt, but still have patience, still have patience with me!

5.        Recitative Continuo (con Violone)

Auf diese Schmerzensreu fällt mir alsdenn dies Trostwort bei:

Amidst the pain of remorse this word of comfort comes to me.

6.        Chorale       Viola solo, Continuo (con Violone)

Ich, dein betrübtes Kind, werf’ alle meine Sünd’ so viel ihr in mir stecken und mich so heftig schrecken, in deine tiefen Wunden, da ich stets Heil gefunden.

I, your troubled child, cast all my sins that are fixed so many within me and frighten me so fiercely, into your deep wounds, where I have always found salvation.

7.        Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)

Ich lege mich in diese Wunden als in den rechten Felsenstein; die sollen meine Ruhstatt sein. In diese will ich mich im Glauben schwingen und d’rauf vergnügt und fröhlich singen:

I lay myself in these wounds as upon the true solid rock: they should be my place of rest. In these I want to soar in faith and content and happy to sing:

8.        Aria Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)

Wie freudig ist mein Herz, da Gott versöhnet ist und mir auf Reu und Leid nicht mehr die Seligkeit noch auch sein Herz verschließt.

How joyful is my heart since God is reconciled and through my remorse and sorrow no longer shuts me away from salvation or from his heart.

Ms. Lieberson’s artistry, though forever lost to live performance, sings to us through this recording with the intensity of the eternal, all the while anchored in the earthly. Her voice is richly colored by the mortal vibrato of a woman facing death, although we hear her while in a period of remission, and in the strength of voice that forestalls, however briefly, the victory of cancer. Her voice is free, allowing the widest possible range of expression. Her gorgeous tone reminds one of a Bavarian Rococo church, with exquisite detail in every phrase. It is altogether appropriate that this precious recording should be made available to music lovers everywhere.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Jeffrey Kahane, matches her intensity and color in perfect partnership.

Bach often paired solo treble arias with Baroque oboes, and no oboist anywhere exceeds the virtuosic musicality of Allan Vogel’s oboe d’amore in the second movement (“Stumme Seufzer”). Principal Violist Roland Kato shines in the sixth movement Chorale (“Ich, dein betrübtes Kind”). An added virtue is Ms. Lieberson’s exemplary coloratura in Recitative No. 7 over the words “und fröhlich singen.” Indeed, with a final declarative Aria No. 8: “Wie freudig ist mein Herz!”

Bach’s oft-heard Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049 completes this Yarlung Records CD, and features the leadership of LACO’s concertmaster Margaret Batjer and flutists David Shostac and Brook Ellen Schoenwald, in a one-on-a-part performance that imparts clarity and lucid texture.

The album, simply titled Lorraine, is scheduled to be released for public sale on March 26 at with distribution by Naxos of America bearing the catalogue number YAR96298, UPC 700261962985. Bob Attiyeh was the producer.