From Finland and the Fairground: New Classical CDs

With the arrival of autumn the nights grow longer, providing an ideal opportunity to listen to more music.  This blog explores a selection of the new classical CDs we added to our collection in April, each offering rarities and innovation. Two of these recordings feature artists and composers well-known in Wellington: Amalia Hall, concertmaster of Orchestra Wellington, and Christopher Park have recorded works for violin and piano by Philipp Schwarenka, while the New Zealand String Quartet, an ensemble-in-residence at Victoria University of Wellington, offers a second installment of notes from a journey featuring new works by New Zealand composers.  A new recording of an Offenbach opéra-bouffe will transport you to nineteenth-century Paris, while the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra navigates Sibelius’s ‘psychological’ symphony, and Le Consort reveals that there is always more to Vivaldi than we expect. Read, listen, and enjoy!

Haydn All-Stars / Trio Ernest
Trio Ernest (violinist Stanislas Gosset, pianist Natasha Roque Alsina, and cellist Clément Dami) formed in 2019, and for the last five years they have been busy touring and performing, immediately attracting attention for their imaginative programming. Haydn All-Stars is a recording project built around four piano trios by Joseph Haydn— the composer who transformed the piano trio from its early existence as a piano work with violin and cello accompaniment or obligato into a more complex form, establishing a meaningful voice for each instrument so that the piano trio might become a sublime form of musical discourse. Trio Ernest interleaves between the Haydn trios several pieces that offer homage or allusion to Haydn’s music. Brahms’s song ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’ and Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom de Haydn, both arranged for piano trio by Carlos Roque Alsina, and Jaqueline Fontyn’s Lieber Joseph! each respond to Haydn’s music in enigmatic ways. Trio Ernest offers precise and expressive performances of each work, demonstrating the individual prowess and thoughtful ensemble that have earned the Trio prize and accolades over the last five years.

notes from a journey II : te haerenga / New Zealand String Quartet
In 2011 the New Zealand String Quartet released Notes from a Journey, comprising five works by New Zealand composers  written between 2015 and 2021. Last year a second volume followed, notes from a journey ii: te haerenga. Some of these pieces — Tabea Squire’s I Danced, Unseen, Ross Harris’s String Quartet No. 9, and Gillian Whitehead’s Poroporoaki — formed part of the NZSQ’s 2023 ‘Woven Pathways’ national tour, while the pieces by Gareth Farr, Salina Fisher, and Louise Webster are favourites from earlier performances. The works recorded here have emerged from a variety of sources: I Danced, Unseen began its life as a collaboration between the NZSQ, Dance Collective Aotearoa, and choreographer Loughlan Prior, while Whitehead’s Poroporoaki and Fisher’s Tōrino respond in different ways to taonga pūoro. Ross Harris’s String Quartet No. 9 exhibits a distilled postmodern plurality in its chorale-based archism and subsequent fragmentation. The journey through these works is also a portrait of the richness of talent and imagination among New Zealand composers, performed by musicians whom they know as friends.

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Exploring The Story of Orchestral Music with Orchestra Wellington

On Saturday night, Orchestra Wellington will open its 2024 Season with a Grand Gesture, a programme that lays down the foundation for the Orchestra’s exploration of The Story, ‘a glimpse of the journey of orchestral music from the Baroque era to the music of today.’ This is a story with many plot twists: far from being a chronological tour of well-known works that lead us from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, music director Marc Taddei’s programming considers how composers in each era looked back at the history of music for inspiration, using the models established by past masters to guide their modern inventions. In the first concert, you’ll hear music by two of the 1685 generation, J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, alongside Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite and the Baroque Variations of Lukas Foss. If you’re eager to learn more about these composers and their music, read on … Wellington City Libraries holds a wealth of material that will enrich the story.

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Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at 80: recordings and tributes

Despite its geographical isolation from the traditional centres of the operatic world, Aotearoa New Zealand has produced a remarkable number of exceptional opera singers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and this tradition shows every sign of continuing. Of all these outstanding ‘southern voices’, the most immediately and internationally recognisable is Dame Kiri te Kanawa, who celebrated her eightieth birthday on Wednesday 6 March 2024. You can access tributes to, and interviews with Kiri te Kanawa via Radio New Zealand, including Playing Favourites with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Happy Birthday, Dame Kiri, Dame Kiri at 80, and Dame Kiri’s 80th birthday, a day of celebration.

Wellington City Libraries hold in their collection many recordings, both on CD and DVD, of performances by Kiri Te Kanawa, including fully staged operas, and song recitals;  this blog will explore a handful of those recordings and other materials. Continue reading “Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at 80: recordings and tributes”

Voyages and vespers: new classical material

At Wellington City Libraries we have the antidote to being aurally overwhelmed by a surfeit of Christmas carols: recent additions to our classical music collection include many wonderful new CDs in November and December, and this blog will explore some of these acquisitions. A special highlight is the Emerson String Quartet’s Infinite Voyage, the final recording by a venerable ensemble that disbanded in late 2023 after nearly half a century together. We also have Norman Meehan’s outstanding and much-needed biography of composer Jenny McLeod Vespro della Beata Virgine / Monteverdi, Claudio
Raphaël Pichon founded the period-instrument ensemble Pygmalion in 2006, to explore the ‘filiations that link Bach to Mendelssohn, Schütz to Brahms or Rameau to Gluck and Berlioz.’ Since then, Pygmalion has demonstrated its ability to perform an enormous repertoire of music. The ensemble also holds a residency at the Opéra national de Bordeaux, and tours and records regularly. This recording of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 opens with a veritable operatic explosion: the intonation ‘Deus, in adjutorium meum intende’ and the choral response ‘Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina’ suggest a lusty exhortation rather than a pious supplication. As the journey through Monteverdi’s Vespers continues, the overall mood remains operatic, but Pichon tempers bombast with moments of crystalline delicacy and tenderness. The instrumentalists and singers embrace their roles, expertly blending precision and expression to create a very memorable account of Monteverdi’s work.

Jenny McLeod : a Life in Music / Meehan, Norman
Norman Meehan’s biography of Jenny McLeod — one of the most extraordinary, innovative, and versatile talents in New Zealand music — is a welcome addition to our music and biography collection. As McLeod’s former student, Elizabeth Kerr, comments in her review, Meehan captures the enigmatic personality of his subject, drawing on many conversations, while also offering insightful and persuasive analyses of McLeod’s music, weaving together a narrative of her life with analyses of her music. Meehan’s depiction of McLeod is a compelling one, leading us on her journey: from Levin and Timaru to Wellington, then Paris and Olivier Messiaen, and Cologne and Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, before McLeod’s return to New Zealand and a turbulent encounter with academe at Victoria University, arguably a milieu for which McLeod’s unique vision and prodigious musical intellect were both too great and too soon.
What emerges from A Life in Music is McLeod’s lifelong ‘search for meaning’ and fulfillment in her creative and spiritual life; her continuing quest for attaining these objectives could be intellectually and physically draining, but ultimately, as works like the opera Hōhepathe score for Whale Rider, her song cycles setting New Zealand poets, the hymns and choral works, and of course, the Tone Clock pieces demonstrate, McLeod always surmounted these challenges. Meehan’s study of McLeod is, therefore, a  readable, incisive, and sensitive account of one of New Zealand’s most remarkable musical lives. Voyage / Emerson String Quartet
The Emerson String Quartet was formed when its members were still students at the Julliard School, and endured for more than four decades as one of the world’s great string quartets. After countless international tours and recordings, the Emerson Quartet decided to disband in 2023, and made their final performance on 22 October at the New York Chamber Music Society.
As David Allen wrote in his review for the New York Times, the Emerson Quartet was far more than a string quartet,  ‘an establishment, a touchstone, a catalyst’ in the musical world. Although the repertoire choices in Infinite Voyage may appear disparate, this is all music that reflects the literal and figurative journies of the Emerson Quartet’s history.  The music is ideally chosen to reflect the Quartet’s collaborations, ambitions, and friendships.  Arnold Schoenberg’s Quartet No. 2 is a work that the Emerson Quartet had wanted to record since adding it to their repertoire, and in this recording they are joined by Barbara Hannigan. Hannigan also performs in Hindemith’s Melancholie, a song cycle setting four poems by Christian Morgenstern, and dedicated to Hindemith’s friend Karl Köhler who perished on the Western Front in 1918. Chanson perpétuelle by Chausson, here in its version for soprano, string quartet, and piano (Bertrand Chamayou), speaks of loss and separation, but also the comfort of memory. Berg’s String Quartet No. 3, completed in 1910 and premiered on 24 April 1911, is a work that still bristles with a sense of the avant-garde more than a century after its composition. The Emerson Quartet captures the audacious modernism of the work, as well as Berg’s immersion in and appreciation of lustrous late Romantic opulence.

 Mass in 40 parts = Missa Ecco sì beato giorno / Striggio, Alessandro
Alessandro Striggio (c. 1536/7–1592) was a virtuoso performer on the lute, viol, lira da braccio and lirone, as well as an adept and imaginative composer, and his music dominated the Medici court in Florence during the 1560s. For many years he was best known for his secular vocal music, including many madrigals and some intermedi (precursors to opera). However, Striggio’s reputation changed with I Fagiolini‘s 2011 recording of his Mass in 40 Parts, an extraordinary large-scale sacred work. That recording won several awards including the Gramophone Early Music Award and a Diapason d’Or de l’Année. In this new album, the original recording of Striggio’s Mass has been remastered, and it is complemented by the addition of Thomas Tallis’s great 40-part work Spem in Alium. In a departure from convention, Hollingworth has added continuo instruments to Spem in Alium, adding remarkable depth and resonance to the piece, and providing a rich foundation for the towering edifice of Tallis’s motet. and Sweet Airs : a Shakespeare songbook
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), and Joseph Middleton (piano) collaborate here on an array of settings of Shakespeare’s texts.  Their recording brings together such familiar songs as Schubert’s An Silvia (D. 106) and Haydn’s canzonetta She Never Told Her Love setting Viola’s words from Act 2 of Twelfth Night with newer responses to Shakespeare’s words, including Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s song cycle Rosalind, and Roderick Williams’s own Sigh No More, Ladies. The ingenious programming makes for diverting pairings of works: Michael Tippet’s Songs for Ariel alongside Arthur Honegger’s Deux chants d’Ariel, and Benjamin Britten’s Fancie next to Francis Poulenc’s Fancy (both setting the same text from The Merchant of Venice) demonstrate Shakespeare’s great reach across time and place. Representing the eighteenth century are J. C. Smith and Thomas Arne. The artists’ imaginative approach to this Shakespeare project makes for an illuminating song recital.

Choral Works / Cage, John
In 2022, BBC Music Magazine described performing this choral music by Cage as ‘the musical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest,’ and praised the Latvian Radio Choir for surmounting its ‘jagged, fragmented notes and pitches’ with accuracy and expression. Of particular interest is the work Hymns and Variations, in which Cage took two hymn melodies (‘Old North’ and ‘Heath’)  by William Billings that form part of the New-England Psalm Singer (1770) and manipulated the tunes by altering the note values and durations and erasing some notes. In each of the variations Cage altered these manipulations, so that a mere revenant of Billings’s original melodies haunts the texture. The result is evocative and veiled, attributes strengthened by the excellence of the Latvian Radio Choir and the intuition of their director, Sigvards Kļava.

Nocturnes & Barcarolles / Fauré, Gabriel
Recorded in 2022, these nocturnes and barcarolles by Fauré add to the more than seventy albums Marc-André Hamelin has made for Hyperion, alongside chamber music by Franck, Dohnányi, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Schumann, solo sonatas by Mozart, Haydn, Liszt, CPE Bach, and Chopin, concertos by Alkan and Strauss, and shorter works by Debussy and Catoire, Bolcom and Feldman, among many others. In these Fauré pieces, Hamelin reveals his ‘innate affinity‘ with French music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; his performance of these works explores the subtle dramas of Fauré’s music. Hamelin’s complete command of the pieces’ harmonic intricacies is almost painterly, tiny brushstrokes and choices of colour that coalesce into a large and beautiful poetic canvas.

In Memoriam: Sir Jon Trimmer (1939-2023)

Book cover showing Jon Trimmer mid jump, on a background of a theatre stage.

Sir Jon Trimmer who died on 26 October 2023, was a figure who has been almost synonymous with the Royal New Zealand Ballet for decades. During a professional career that spanned nearly sixty years, Trimmer illuminated stages the length and breadth of the country; his performances in a wide variety of classical, contemporary, and character roles were always unforgettable. His MBE for services to ballet in 1974, and his knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 1999, recognised these achievements. While some dancers may have attracted more star-studded international glory, few can claim such longevity, or be held in such deep affection, as Trimmer. This blog offers a tribute to a great dancer and true man of the theatre who was also a good friend to Wellington City Libraries: when sharing his Stories from the Ballet with our branches he not only brought to life the plots and characters of several ballets, but he also introduced the audience to the significance of gesture and mime as the means of storytelling. Because of his inimitable ability to educate and entertain any age group, Trimmer’s Stories from the Ballet are still remembered vividly by library staff and their children and grandchildren.

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Red Moon: Inner Visions of Berg’s Wozzeck

Saturday 11 November 2023 sees the finale of Orchestra Wellington’s ‘Inner Visions’ season with a concert performance of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. This will be the first performance of Berg’s complete work in New Zealand, nearly a full century after its premiere in Berlin in December 1925. Orchestra Wellington and Music Director Marc Taddei will be joined by a constellation of outstanding singers in the principal roles, as well as the Scholar Cantorum of St Mark’s School, and the Tudor Consort.

This blog will explore some of the background to Wozzeck and highlight some of the books and audiovisual materials in the Wellington City Library that will offer still more context for and analysis of Berg’s opera. Whether you are interested in the history of Wozzeck, Berg’s creative process and the structure of the work, atonality, Expressionism, or the early-nineteenth century play Woyzeck that provided Berg with his source and inspiration, there will be something here for you: Roger Parker, Carolyn Abbate, Theodore Adorno, and several other authors have all written perceptively and revealingly about Wozzeck.

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