Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bloggo Musico-Classico: Another Sunday, Another GSO Concert

Yesterday the good doctor and I attended still another concert by the Greenville Symphony. While my life can hardly be called "packed with activity" it seems that this year I have neglected regular commentaries on performances at the GSO. I began to write about a recent concert of the full symphony (The Masterworks Series) called "Fairytales and Legends" 
that included Rimsky-Korsakov's Suite for Scheherazade (distinguished especially by concertmaster Xiaoqing Yu's lovely heartfelt solos - bravo!), George Bizet's incidental music for L'Arlésienne (both quite well performed, with passages quite pleasing and many familiar to the ear - anyone who knows the Christmas Carol "We Three Kings" will, upon hearing the first strains of L'Arlesienne, immediately recognize the carol's source - and finally the William Tell Overture by Rossini, which ruined the afternoon for me. The brass, as all too often happens, overpowered the strings so that in the most famous/infamous part - the Heigh-Ho Silver section, one might call it - what stood out was the rather flat and literally one-note orchestration for trumpets.

Georges Bizet

So I decided not to write about that one, as I'd have once again blasted the orchestra's brass - but whoops! I just did!

I came even closer to writing about the more intimate Chamber Orchestra Series concert of only two weeks ago, 
named "With Strings Attached" which was altogether wonderful, and which featured Mendelssohn's Sinfonia No 9 in C minor (called "Swiss" because the composer wrote it while in Switzerland, not because it made use of "Swiss" motifs), Grieg's Holberg Suite No 40 (Holberg being an early Norwegian playwright, none of whose plays have made it into the international repertoire, for good reason), and finally Tchaikovsky's lilting Serenade Op 48 in C major,
Edvard Grieg
 which brought down the house, and rightly so. I've long considered the strings the finest section of the GSO, and this concert proved me right beyond a doubt.

But, though I did a good bit of research on the first two composers (on whom I have not yet written for this blog) as well as a bit on Holberg, and even a jot on Tchaikovsky, I chose not to write a post.

But whoops! I just did so! 

Sidebar on Tchaikovsky: I read something in the program notes that I'd not yet heard. In the same autumn of the year 
that the composer wrote the delightful Serenade (1880), he also wrote the 1812 Overture. Of course the latter is one of the most performed of the composer's works, the Serenade a good bit less so. HOWEVUH! (as an old Brooklyn friend of mine would have pronounced it) he wrote his patron: "The overture will be very showy and noisy, but will have no artistic merit because I wrote it without warmth and without love. But the Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so I venture to say it does not lack artistic merit." I find that contrast fascinating!

Now, where was I...? OH yes! I was beginning to write about YESTERDAY'S concert! Dottore Gianni often complains that I put carts before horses, digress more than I should, can't seem to keep my mouth shut or my opinions to myself - or both...perhaps there's a kernel of truth in all that...

YESTERDAY I heard a concert that started, in my opinion, somewhat poorly, at best in a mediocre manner, and ended triumphantly...well, almost...

Titled "German Inspirations" (a less than inspiring title), it dealt in its first with a composer I've heard of but confess I do not know all that well, Carl Maria von Weber. This important 
A rather dashing looking -
or at least very Romantic -
Carl Maria von Weber
early Romantic composer (dates 1786-1826), perhaps less for his own works as for his influence on later composers, including Richard Wagner. You will possibly remember that he composed several operas, including Der Freischütz, and a piece for piano called "Invitation to the Dance." The significance of the former is that it was an early example - not the earliest - Mozart's Magic Flute pre-dates it by about 30 years) of singspiel. This sort of music theatre differs from the predominant Italian opera of its day in that it casts off recitative (sung dialogue) in favor of spoken dialogue. The arias, duets and so on are of course sung, but in this way it envisions later operettas and even the American musical. It is also written in German (or in the language native to any country in which it is written), not Italian (heaven forbid!)

Der Freischütz was a smash hit in 1821, but Weber's later efforts in the form were not as successful. We heard not the overture to Der Freischütz but to that of an opera called Euryanthe, demanded in the wake of the former's success. The sad tale of the latter concerns not so much Weber, but 
"Das Chéz"
the librettist of the piece, as the over-long, overblown program notes describe her "a Viennese literary lady Helmine von Chézy...a blowzy, self-important 'intellectual, deficient in both talent and personal hygiene.'" (and Dottore Gianni thinks MY criticism is acidic - tell us what you really think, dear Matthew Naughtin, the author of the notes!) Naughtin, new to the GSO this season, then quotes David Mason Greene on the libretto itself, as "'one of the worst librettos ever foisted on a major operatic composer.'" (at least as acidic as Naughtin's note on the talent and hygiene of, as Weber apparently called her, "Das Chéz.")

The music in the opera is much finer than the book, say most critics. That may be so, but Dottore Gianni found the overture rather dull. Was it dull, or was it dully played? Possibly a bit of both. For the good doctor and I confess for me, it was not an auspicious start to a concert.

The second piece was chosen interestingly (if not in my opinion wisely) - a work of twentieth century German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). Of this composer I've
Paul Hindemith
 written before in this blog, so I'll pass on the biography and get straight to the work, a "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." The good doctor and I are often resistant to twentieth century "important" music, and though I have heard some lovely work by Hindemith and wanted to enjoy this...I simply did not. The longwinded notes writer Naughtin calls it "quite simply a 'fun' piice of music, a pouring forth of high spirits and joyous sounds. Even the title is a joke, of sorts, its grandiose verbosity belied by the playful puckishness of the it describes." (hmmmm...) The "fun" Hindemith engaged in was to pick melodies of Weber's that showed him "' his best.'"

I may well have enjoyed this second piece in the program more were I more familiar with Weber's music, but I think not. To my mind (and to the good doctor's) the joke is a sour one, and while it is showy enough the music was unpleasant to my ear, until parts of its third movement...sorry! Here are the markings:

I. Allegro
II. Scherzo (Turandot), Moderato - Lively
III. Andantino
IV. Marsch

and the fourth, which is a tour de force, and a rouser of a finish. The brass, as usual, was blaring, but perhaps in this case it was called for (for a change). 

Fortunately, there was a second portion of the concert. 

This was devoted entirely to the second symphony of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), I think my favorite of his four powerful works in this form. It is marked

I. Allegro non troppo
II. Adagio non troppo
III. Allegretto grazioso(quasi-andantino)
IV. Allegro con spirito

Brahms wrote symphonies for large orchestras, and there is romantic drama in each of them. This one is perhaps the least 
A rather intense, Romantic, and
handsome young Brahms
overtly dramatic, at least in its first three movements - lyrical, of varying moods, seemingly set in the country (he wrote it, per the program notes, at the side of a large Alpine lake). The fourth movement begins calmly enough but builds and builds into a triumphant finale - I'm hearing it now as I write this, not on a CD, merely in my head, and the audience gave it a deserved (for a change) standing ovation. They may also have been as enthused as they were because Tchivzhel and orchestra pulled out a less than brilliant earlier portion of the afternoon, but I went along with them, happily, but with the following slight disappointments - you guessed it, the 
An older Brahms -
before & after - after loses
brass again - not many notes were fumbled (and the principal horn player, Anneke Zuehlke-King, was excellent in an extended section) but some were, and once again, principally among the trumpets, a glaring, blaring sound too often overpowered the rest of the orchestra and failed to serve the beautiful piece as it should have been. I note this principally in the wonderful last movement - ah well, it's not the Philadelphia Orchestra, is it? But there was so much good in the playing from much of the orchestra that I accept it, and Dottore Gianni, going further, forgives it.

Two more concerts remain in the season, the next only a few weeks away - the Chamber Series ends with GSO Goes Jazzy - uh-oh...I'm not generally a fan of concerts in which any symphony goes "pop" but perhaps this will be an exception, and the last piece is by one of my favorites - Leonard Bernstein, three dance episodes from On the Town, one of my favorite of his early musicals. Bernstein is also featured in the final Masterworks concert, called Americana. This I think I'll enjoy, as it opens with the overture and symphonic dances from West Side Story, and the second piece is a divertimento for orchestra also by Lenny B. And part two is given to a "symphonic picture" of Gershwin's masterpiece Porgy and Bess. This too is pop in part, but what tasteful pop!

Coda: Back briefly to a subject from the beginning of this post, NOT from the concert I focused on, instead more on the Serenade by Tchaikovsky. One of the most familiar melodies, 
Kathryn Grayson
a waltz, I immediately recognized as having been "pop"-ularized (don't seem able to get away from "pop" in this piece!) but I could not remember where I'd heard it. What I DID remember, or thought I did, were one line of the lyrics written for it: "When they walked though she tried not to show it, she was terribly, terribly bored" (and repeat the last 
And dueling suitors
Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra
five words). I searched and searched for this, could not find it, and then wisely enlarged the search - from those specific lyrics to "popular songs taken from Tchaikovsky." This yielded better results! and while I wasn't exactly right on them it's odd that the first search proved fruitless. But of course she only felt "bored" before she got to know him! I had got the lyrics almost right but the sense of the song wrong! I'll let the site I found explain it all for you.


(P. I. Tchaikovsky (m) / Earl K. Brent (l) )

As sung by Kathryn Grayson 1945 in the film < Anchors Aweigh > .

From the heart of a lonely poet
Came a song for the girl he adored
Though she tried very hard not to show it
She was terribly, terribly bored.

But then the poet asked her if she'd like more
And her eyes shone, and the moon shone
And the stars shone up above.

And they danced through the evening together
They were swaying
To the music of a XX violin.

He held her and told her he loved her
'Till the moon faded above her.

(coloratura bridge)

As they waltzed, though she tried not to show it
She was certain she'd fallen in love.

(coloratura bridge)

And her eyes shone, and the moon shone
And the stars shone above her.

And they danced through the evening together
They were swaying
To the music of a XX violin.

The spell of the XX
There was stardust XX above them.

(coloratura bridge)

And they waltzed, though she tried not to show it
You could see in her eyes a light
That she was in love with of a poet
And they waltzed through the thrill of the night.

(coloratura bridge to end)


The lyrics for this song were applied to the Russian
composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's work,
< Serenade for Strings C Major, Op 48 (1880) > .

The portion of the 4 movement Serenade which is of
concern vis à vis these lyrics is the Valse
(the Second Movement).

These lyrics appeared in Anchors Aweigh, an MGM 1945
musical containing 25 musical offerings.
Director: George Sidney
Leads: Frank Sinatra / Kathryn Grayson / Gene Kelly /
Dean Stockwell.

Kathryn Grayson, an American, was an operatic soprano.
She worked several high profile musical films, Anchors Aweigh,
Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate to name a few. Later in her career,
she worked theatre appearing in Camelot and operas such as

La Bohème, Madame Butterfly and La Traviata.

"Waltzed!" "Fallen in Love!" Big difference, yes? Ah, my memory...why, even Dottore Gianni did not remember it correctly heh heh. Now I need to rent Anchors Aweigh again, wonderful movie musical with of course Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, La Grayson and others (though I certainly don't remember Dean Stockwell, nor does the good doctor) to grace it! Watch the scene yourself if you'd like: