by BRIAN KELLOW and TRISTAN KRAFT
Mysterious lady: Auger
© Malcolm Crowthers 2012
Essential Hugo Wolf Performance: Arleen Auger and Irwin Gage, "Kennst du das land?"
"Do you know the land where the lemons blossom, where the oranges grow golden among dark leaves?" begins Mignon, dreaming of her Italian homeland, in the Goethe poem set by many composers, including Schubert and Schumann. But no other setting carries quite the emotional wallop of Hugo Wolf's. The composer has chosen a fairly strophic approach, but the singer takes her cue from the piano accompaniment, which becomes increasingly complex and agitated as the song goes on. Arleen Auger's interpretation, which can be heard in a YouTube clip with the very fine Irwin Gage at the piano, puts us in a kind of melancholy trance. As a performer, Auger was something of a mystery: musically, she might have seemed like a cool breeze, but she was capable of whipping up a white-hot tempest without letting you know quite how she did it. See Russell Platt's close encounter with the songs of Hugo Wolf, "The Lone Wolf."
Essential Reason to Love English Song: "The Turtle Dove," by Vaughan Williams.
The English song repertoire has a kind of noble, elegiac quality all its own. These songs certainly aren't lacking in emotional substance, but they deliver their messages in envelopes of restraint and refinement; the tear is in the voice, but the eyes are dry. A supreme example is "The Turtle Dove," by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This song, in various arrangements, has long been a favorite of English choral groups, but there's nothing quite like a sweet solo-male voice on the lines, "But I never will prove false to the bonny lass I love,/ Till all these things be done, my dear,/ Till all these things be done." See Hilary Finch's musings on English song, "There'll Always Be an England."
Essential Setting for a Lieder Festival: Oxford, England.
In 1931, Barbara Pym, then reading English at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, wrote in her diary, "Oxford really is intoxicating." So it remains today. With its plethora of great secondhand bookstores and inviting pubs (including the thirteenth-century jewel, the Turf Tavern), Oxford is a great place to hide away for a week or two of quiet reading, reflection and regrouping. There's also a lot of music around town, especially in October, when the Oxford Lieder Festival opens. World-class artists annually make this a magnet for devotees of art song looking for an intellectually romantic getaway. This year's festival runs October 12 to 27.
Essential Gerald Finley Primer: Songs & Proverbs of William Blake (Hyperion).
We recommend it because Finley and frequent collaborator Julius Drake craft the 2008 all-Benjamin Britten release just like a recital. The innocence of the first track, "Lemady," hooks you in, then the painstaking, believable sentimentality of "Tom Bowling" makes you curious about everything this duo has to say together. When the meatier, thornier content of the cycle Songs & Proverbs of William Blake spins around, you feel ready for it. And when the light fare — "The Crocodile" and "The Deaf Woman's Courtship," in which Finley sings in a Cockney-accent falsetto — close the program, you're charmed, and grateful for the generosity in evidence here. Fred Cohn profiles Finley in "Song Champion."
Essential Summer Opera Perversity: Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht at the U.K.'s Birmingham Opera Company.
When Stockhausen finished the work in 1998, it left Tristan und Isolde sounding about as controversial as "Chopsticks." Stockhausen's five-hour opera features four real helicopters, two choirs, a camel, short-wave radios, octophonic sound (we had to look it up too; octophonic is to eight what stereo is to two) and singers. Birmingham Opera Company mounts the work (under the guidance of stage director Graham Vick) for the London 2012 Festival, which ties cultural events to the London Olympics that begin this month. The most famous part of Mittwoch aus Licht calls for a string quartet playing together — while sitting in separate, flying helicopters. Video recordings of this helicopter quartet can be found on YouTube; listening to it is kind of like speeding on a highway with all the windows down and George Crumb's Black Angels on the radio.
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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