Search This Blog

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A truly spectacular piece of Music Antiquaria, a Ralph Vaughn Williams World Premiere Program

In my quest to bring really outstanding items to my clientele, I always keep my eye out for the extremely unusual.  In a week where we received and handled a portrait of Edgard Varese, a complete manuscript of Max Reger and a great letter of Ella Fitzgerald, this item stood out!  You, my readers will hear about this before my clients, as I was excited to post it here before launching the item on my website.  What you see above is the World Premier program of the legendary British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams Sinfonia Antartica.  His seventh Symphony written between 1949 and 1952 was given it's World Premier with Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra on the 14th of January, 1953.  The work was derived from his film score of Scott of the Antartic about the explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott's disastrous 1912 trip to the South Pole.  The Antartic held an absolute fascination for Vaughn Williams and the Symphony is  exceptionally well colored, loaded with musical themes inspired by glaciers, wind, blizzards and even penguins and some of the leitmotifs return throughout the work.  The program is autographed on the cover by Vaughn Williams, which is a rarity in itself, but also Sir John Barbirolli, soprano Margaret Ritchie, concert master Laurence Turner and Peter Scott, Captain Scott's son!

Here is a Youtube link to the first movement of the work, led by Barbirolli, the Halle and Margaret Ritchie.  A most commanding work by a composer well ahead of his time!

Update 2/28/12: The item is now sold.

Lady Gaga meets Bach, a new Fugue is born

I think I'll let this one speak for itself, other than to say it is an extremely clever fugue written in the style of Bach by a pianist named Vincenzo Culotta.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Andre Boccelli's Mephistophilean Bargain

Boccelli for the last 15 or so years, has owned a big portion of the 40+ mostly female "easy listening" market.  Those who would never, or rarely ever listen to opera, but like the bands and crooners Air Supply, Dean Martin, Perry Como, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, James Blunt etc. (My wife is a fan of his and the genre)  As he has an "operatic" type of voice, opera impresarios have attempted to use him as a vehicle to lure in his faithful crowd for their financial gain. The Teatro Carlo Felice currently has some financial difficulties, so they are hoping with 4 repetitions of the opera, selling the HD performance to theatres and a DVD/CD release that they will make some money to help pay off their debt.  While Gelb's presentation of Boccelli as a lieder singer was a critical flop, my understanding was the house was packed with his faithful who paid big prices to hear him sing.  Interestingly, he's not making a massive salary considering his usual fees for concerts, 100k Euros for 3 weeks of rehearsals and 4 performances is chump change next to what he usually takes in for a concert, though I'm sure there is also a back end on the HD and DVD/CD deal which very well may be produced by his wife on his label, though I'm sure there is more to come on this.

Now here is the rub.  Boccelli never has had a big voice and it is not well projected. He sings his specially written songs with a soft orchestra and a big microphone and it works even today with the evident wear and tear on his voice.  He also desperately wants to succeed where he has failed and it does not appear anyone has the heart, or cojones to tell him no and even if they did, he probably would not listen.  The issue here is that he is being used as a vehicle by the impresarios of the World to bring in cash.  He is being encouraged to do things beyond his limitations and that frankly is disturbing. So here he is having made a Mephistophelean bargain with Giovanni Pacor at the Carlo Felice.  He will have the bully pulpit before his audience, not the usual Genoan opera audience and they will love him even if he is an abject failure, which there is a high probability he will be by operatic standards.  He will receive standing ovations from his crowd and they will adore him to the point that he still thinks he's got it. The critics will also come and invariably
the next morning pan him for his efforts, which he probably will never hear. But he will hear the rapturous applause from his audience.  Then the shampoo cycle will rinse and repeat elsewhere, as it is his audience buying the tickets and his audience will not let him down and he knows it.  The question
is, when will the Impressarios stop using him to make up the shortfalls for their problems?

Norman Lebrecht's take on Boccelli's return to opera

The Teatro Carlo Felice website

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A most unusual photograph of "the Maestro" Arturo Toscanini

In the pantheon of conductors, perhaps the most revered name is Arturo Toscanini.  We have handled any number of Toscanini autographed and unsigned original photographs over the years.  There are a very small group of images which he typically signed and this is far from typical.  

The 8" x 10" photograph above dates to May, 1950 while the Maestro was on his final trans-continental tour with his NBC Symphony Orchestra.  Toscanini, 83 years young at the time and still full of vim and vigor is posed with an unnamed woman at Colonial Williamsburg in period dress.  What makes this photograph all the more interesting is it is one of the very few we have seen when the Maestro is actually smiling!  So if you always wanted to have an autographed photograph of Toscanini and you like the unusual, this is the photograph for you!  We can guarantee, you will not find another one like it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Opera Criticism, can one believe the New York Times any longer?

The New York City Opera staged it's first performance of the year this past Sunday.  They rented the old Jonathan Miller La Traviata production from Glimmermerglass for the occasion.  A traditional and popular Verdi opera, with many seats underwritten for a mere $25.00 and performed at BAM one would think it would be a home run.  However, there are two major problems, one, the patrons who purchased their tickets at regular prices are not amused and feel betrayed by the Company and second, the two largest New york City papers' reviews read like polar opposites. Anthony Tommasini, the Chief Critic of the New York Times thought the performance important enough that he should cover it and not send a staff critic; the motivation is why?  Tommasini's opera criticism over the past 4-5 years has become the subject of snickers in many fachs of the New York opera cognoscenti.  His reviews have been sharply contrasted by any number of critics and tend to be overtly kind.  It appears as if Tommasini, or his editors are concerned a New York Times review might put an opera company out of business if he wrote his true, unvarnished opinion.  Two of his best writers, Anne Midgette and Alex Ross have left over the past few years for bigger jobs, but both were known to be highly opinionated in their criticism.  The contrast is, the Times has no problem writing scathing reviews of Broadway shows, or films, so why is opera handled differently. This scenario has repeated itself time and time again and in my mind the all too kind Tommasini review of the 2009 Bondy Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera stands as a beaconing benchmark to my point.  The link below, while not overly kind, is the kindest review anyone gave this dog of a production.

Mr. Tommasini's 2009 NY Times Tosca Review

A group of contrasting reviews:

Martin Bernheimer's review in the Financial Times
Mr. Bernheimer's review of the Bondy Tosca, Financial Times

Justin Davidson's review in New York Magazine.
Mr. Davidson's Review of Bondy Tosca, New York Magazine

Mark Swed's review in the Los Angeles Times
Mr. Swed's review of the Bondy Tosca , Los Angeles Times

Alex Ross's review in the New Yorker Magazine.
Mr. Ross's review of the Bondy Tosca. New Yorker Magazine

Mike Silverman's review in the Huffington Post
Mr. Silverman's review of the Bondy Tosca, Huffington Post

James Jorden's review in the New York Post
James Jorden's review of the Bondy Tosca, New York Post

I could fill this article with many examples of the The New York Times soft pedaling opera reviews throughout the Gelb years, while other critics gave what appears to be unvarnished assessments.  Martin Bernheimer of the Financial Times is an example of a critic who often provides contrasting assessments to Mr. Tommasini's reviews.  Tommasini recently went so far as to write an "almost" expose of Gelb's tenure at the MET, but does not quite finish the job.  While he starts out on the proper footing, bringing our attention to the high rate of failure of new productions at the MET, he never quite seals the deal at the end of the article, soft peddling the premise of the article at the end.   It is almost as if he were put up to write an article by The Times editors and he starts the article and then thinks the better of it and tap dances to the end. Gelb's filling the house at about 50% these days and with his big budget performances, like the $16.0 million dollar Ring Cycle, that's a huge problem.  Donors can only fill the shortfalls for so long, butts in seats are the hallmark of a thriving theatrical operation.

Mr. Tommasini 11-25-11 article on the Gelb tenure to date

Which brings us to today.  Mr. Tommasini chose to attend the NYCO La Traviata himself and write the review which was released this morning.  It is a glowing review for the production and the NYCO, based upon Tommasini's review, one should race over with  $25.00's cash and buy a ticket, or two.  However, once again there are major contrasts in reviews and this one could not be more glaring.  James Jorden saw the same production as Tommasini and wrote a review which is so polar opposite that one could not imagine both critics saw the same production on the same day.  Now, I spoke last night with an individual, an opera professional who had attended the performance.  This individual is very pro NYCO and wants them to succeed when many of his stature would prefer for them to fold and go away.  He described this production and cast as boring, with minimal choristers, a scaled down orchestra and dingy sets.  I e-mailed him the reviews this morning and he said that Jorden's review is the proper review.

The question is, which critic do you believe?  Certainly a critic who is not giving their true opinion based upon politics is not doing the public any favors. I would venture to say with knowledgeable critics like Bernheimer, Jorden and Ross out there willing to call the balls and strikes on opera performances, former readers of New York Times opera criticism are going elsewhere for their information.  It is time to stop the politics and call a dog a dog.

Mr. Tommasini's review of the NYCO La Traviata, New York Times

Mr. Jorden's review of the NYCO La Traviata, New York Post

Saturday, February 11, 2012

CBC Vancouver Recording Library the victim of the times and short sighted leadership

The Canadian Broadcasting Company plans to dismantle it's physical recording library and digitize the "top" 14,000 tracks.  The 100,000 or so recordings will be given away, sold at wholesale etc.  Short sighted considering the time and expense involved with the project and the danger of losing source material to mechanical flaw without original source back-up.  Management of such organizations are at times are sold down the river by business consultants who have to justify their expense and without real expertise.

Their stupidity is your gain, so here is a potential opportunity for institutions and collectors alike to obtain possibly rare recordings in a variety of physical formats.

The article from yesterday's Montreal Gazette:

Article from the Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An example of the perfect use of head tones by a tenor

The Italian lyric tenor Renzo Casellato is perhaps not the first tenor one thinks of when a discussion of the French School of singing.  However, this Youtube clip of  Mi par d'udire ancora from Georges Bizet's Les Pecheur de Perles is absolutely some of the most sublime lyric tenor singing one can hope to hear.  His perfect use of head tones, superb phrasing, diction and yes a tad bit of falsetto makes this one of the finest renditions I have heard of this gorgeous but seldomly performed aria.

Mi par d'udire ancora,
o scosa in mezzo ai fior,
la voce sua talora,
sospirare l'amor!
O notte di carezze,
gioir che non ha fin,
o sovvenir divin!
Folli ebbrezze del sogno, sogno d'amor!
Dalle stelle del cielo,
Altro menar che da lei,
La veggio d'ogni velo,
Prender li per le ser!
O notte di carezze!
gioir che non ha fin!
o sovvenir divin!
Folli ebbrezze del sogno, sogno d'amor!
divin sovvenir, divin sovvenir!

Je crois entendre encore
Caché sous les palmiers
Sa voix tendre et sonore
Comme un chant de ramiers.
Oh nuit enchanteresse
Divin ravissement
Oh souvenir charmant,
Folle ivresse, doux rêve!
Aux clartés des étoiles
Je crois encor la voir
Entr'ouvrir ses longs voiles
Aux vents tièdes du soir.
Oh nuit enchanteresse
Divin ravissement
Oh souvenir charmant
Folle ivresse, doux rêve!
Charmant Souvenir!
Charmant Souvenir!

Dan Shigo's interview with Judith Doniger regarding her teacher, the legendary Anna Schoen-Rene

Judith Doniger as a Duncan Girl, age 4

Baritone and vocal coach Dan Shigo has written a marvelous article on my Grandmother, her singing career and her interaction with her vocal professor at Juilliard, the famed Anna Schoen-Rene and her link to the Garcia school of singing.

The link to the article: 

Monday, February 6, 2012

The True Brahms Waltz in A Minor World Premiere Video!

Click on the photograph to enlarge

The World Premiere of the now fabled Brahms Albumblatt in A minor was not in London, England on January 21st, 2012, it was not in Princeton, New Jersey on January 18th, 2012.  As of this past weekend, we learned it was not even on October 8th, 2011 in Kiel, Germany.  In fact the World Premiere was given as an encore during the April 28th, 2011 concert by pianist Craig Sheppard in a public faculty recital at the Meany Theatre, at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Now, how did this come to be?  Professor George Bozarth, the President of the American Brahms Society was made aware of the little waltz in A minor when he was called in as an expert consult by Music Antiquarian John Lubrano.  Mr. Lubrano had seen the album prior to the cataloging phase and was interested in purchasing the album at the Doyle Galleries auction.  When Doyle Galleries published the j-peg of the piece on their web-site, Professor Bozarth who had heard his friend and colleague Craig Sheppard was performing a "Mostly Brahms" recital on the 28th of April, forwarded the link to him on the 23rd of April suggesting he add the then newly discovered piece to his concert.  He also mentioned that Craig would be presenting a World Premiere.  Craig took his advice and added the work as an encore to his recital.  As Professor Bozarth was one of the very few people who knew about the album leaf, there were no prior public performances.

Below, is the video of the true World Premiere of the Brahms Waltz in A Minor, as performed by Craig Sheppard on April 28th, 2011. Mr. Sheppard begins the performance with an explanation of the circumstances in which he came by the piece.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Brief Plug from the November 2011 Professional Autograph Dealers Association Show

The Fancaster videographers came to the PADA Show in November to cover our portion of the Show at the Piers in Manhattan.  Amusingly, I appear with my wife at the end showing Wilhelm Furtwangler and Gene Krupa autographed photographs.  Meanwhile you can also see some other interesting autographs from a few of our colleagues!

November PADA Show video

The Brahms Albumblatt fictional story won't rest; updated 2/5/12

Johannes Brahms postmortem photograph

On January 20th I exposed the true story concerning the recent history of the newly discovered Brahms album leaf.    The piece was discovered and identified last Winter prior to it's public sale at Doyle Galleries, New York.  The research and cataloging was done many months before Christopher Hogwood set eyes on the leaf and claimed discovery of the piece.  The story brought out in the press and on BBC radio makes it look as if he's Howard Carter discovering King Tut's tomb!  Of course, by the time Hogwood saw the album, the World Premier had been given in Germany and two scholarly articles had already been published!

Brahms Albumblatt story

This morning, I received a communique from a person who has followed this story and found the following posted on Maestro Hogwood's website 14 days after this story had been well exposed.

Screen capture from the web site this morning 2/3/12

So rather than recant the tale, his site is perpetuating the story by linking to a recently written blog article regarding the "discovery" wholly based upon the BBC/Guardian fiction.  The article goes so far as to compare the conductor to Indiana Jones and even has a photo-shopped photograph of Hogwood's face over a picture of Indiana Jones.....just click on the link below.

From the Blog

Now here is the rub.  We don't know Mr. Hogwood, who is by reputation a fine conductor.  We know he has done quality research in the past and has been awarded accolades at the highest level including honors from the Queen herself.  However, the fictious part about his "discovery" could have been quashed from the start.  When the BBC started insinuating things which simply did not happen, he should have corrected them then and there.  When The Guardian newspaper came out with their yarn, he should have corrected them.    Now 2 weeks after the story was exposed, he has not made any public comment regarding this affair and in fact, his web-site is still perpetuating the tale.

In the scheme of things, this simply is not a very important matter; but, the truth is the truth and Maestro Hogwood did not discover this work.  The right thing to do after this story was exposed would be to come out and tell the musical World that the radio and press story were fabrications and give proper credit to those who did the research many months before he laid eyes on the album leaf.  We are still waiting.....

Update 2/5/12:

From a public posting to Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc Blog and Facebook page, we have information concerning what in all likelihood was the World Premiere of the Brahms Album Leaf.  Pianist Craig Sheppard performed the piece as an encore on April 28th 2011 in a public recital!  In his words:

My colleague, Dr. George Bozarth, a Professor of Music History here at the University of Washington in Seattle and a leading member of the American Brahms Society, sent me a link on April 24th, 2011, to the website on which this ‘...newly discovered’ autograph had just been made available. I performed it four days hence, as an encore to my third (of five) recitals in my Mostly Brahms series, on Thursday evening, April 28th, 2011, in Seattle’s Meany Theater. If, in fact, the manuscript had only been released for the first time over the Internet that previous weekend, I might have actually given the world premiere of it. And I have a DVD of the performance (and the memories of several hundred who attended that evening) to prove it! In any case, it is certainly a bit fatuous, even disingenuous, for Christopher to claim discovery of the work.

The post on Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc Blog

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A "lost" soprano rediscovered, Judith Doniger

Judith Doniger in her Shakespearean concert dress

 From my earliest memories, I remember my Grandmother singing to me; in the park, going to a children's event, driving in the car and sometimes at her home.  At that age, she was just a typical Grandmother doting on her grandchild.  As I got older, I discovered that she had been an opera singer and also learned very quickly that she did not like to talk about that aspect of her life.  Grandma had had impeccable training, Pasquale Amato in her teens, Anna El-Tour at the Sorbonne, Anna Schoen-Rene at Juilliard, Marie Gutheil-Schoder at the Mozarteum, Fausto Cleva and Vera Schwarz as a coaches later on.  Her career, like so many at the time fell victim to two complications, raising a family of three children and then the War.  However, as she did not have the time to devote to opera, she did tour in concert through the 1950's including several Town Hall concerts here in New York City and had her own program singing Shakespeare set to music on WNYC.  Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco even orchestrated his Shakespeare songs for her!

For her 90th birthday, we made a cd of 22 of her best private recordings.  The cd, was played at her birthday and we gave them out as party favors for the guests. She was needless to say surprised and she was so happy with the results she began talking about her career for the first time in decades.  

A few years before her death, I was introduced to a singer and pedagogue named Daniel Shigo.  Dan has been working on a book about her Juilliard singing professor Anna Schoen-Rene for a number of years.  Schoen-Rene had a storied career and taught the likes of Rise Stevens, Kitty Carlisle and Margaret Harshaw.  Dan had visited as many of her then elderly pupils as he could and by the time he interviewed Grandma, she was one of the last three.  A few months ago, Dan called me and asked if he could put up some of the cd selections on Youtube as he was transcribing his interview with her for his blog.  We gave him permission and he has posted 7 clips from the cd.  Anyhow, I was playing them for a knowledgeable friend the other day and he was extremely impressed with her recording of Wagner's "Traume" from the "Wesendonk Lieder" and thought I should share it with you on the blog.  

So without further adieu, here is Judith Doniger singing a radio broadcast of Wagner's "Traume" with Victor Alessandro and the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra on November 12, 1950.  (For those who have not heard the piece before, you will note that this piece is a precursor to the "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde" and there is a huge similarity between the works.) 

recording copyright Harmonie Autographs and Music, inc. 2002
Historical remastering by Seth B. Winner Sound Studios, Inc.

Thanks to Dan Shigo for his hard work putting these recordings up on Youtube!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Book to be released on legendary Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin's American adventures!

Renowned Chaliapin scholar Joseph Darsky's new book, Tsar Feodor, Chaliapin in America will be released either this month, or next by Nova publishers.  The first book of it's kind to explore and document the larger than life Russian bassos' opera seasons and concert tours in the Americas, 1907-1929.  The author, whose previous books are in the Russian language, has had unparalleled access to the Chaliapin family archives and has traveled the Americas to research this fascinating story.  The book also contains the first ever complete chronology of Chaliapin's  various performances in opera and concert in both North and South America.  I have seen early portions of the work during the writing process and the book is compelling, a great read and a perfect addition to every opera library, as well as fans of the great singer.

The published price is $140.00, though there is an early 10% discount directly from the publisher.  Amazon offers the book pre-publication at $88.20 and Powell's books $85.95.

Amazon link

Powell's link

Nova Publisher's Book Description