Sunday, 15 December 2019

Alua - Macau's international Christmas pudding

Alua or Aluar, traditional Christmas delicacy in Macau. As the photo shows, it's now sold in shops as "Western style Nien Go", ie a variant of the Chinese New Year treat Nien Go (cake/pudding that marks the arrival of a new year). Both are made from more or less the same ingredients, glutious rice, bing tong (slab brown sugar, either Chinese style or what was known as Jagari, from India), coconut milk, nuts, and sometimes lard or butter (Macau style). Heavy duty - you can only eat a sliver at a time, even when it's fried or steamed to soften it. An excuse to wash it down with lots of Chinese tea.  The surface texture was slightly greasy, and the colour usually dark brown, like the sugar, with almonds and extra coconut.  The treat is also supposed to have Indian origins, with Persian, Goanese and Malay versions as well, which isn't so surprising given that these were points on the trade routes between China and theWest from the 16th century.

Making Alua was hard work - the rice had to be ground down fine with mortar and pestle, and the mix steamed for ages. Families  that made it tended to make it in batches, which were then sold throughout the community. Certain cooks were famous, their wares highly sought after : they took bookings well in advance. Read more HERE.  The last time I ate alua was in Macau when I was a teenager, delicious batch from an elderly lady whose family had been making it each season for 250 years.  Calories and cholesterol weren't an issue then, since most of the year people lived on simple fare - vegetables, fish and rice, and religious Fast Days, and abstinence before Mass were strictly observed.  Christmas was a very big thing in the Macanese community because it reinforced Catholic identity, at a time when being a Christian was definitely a minority thing, and the Macanese with their mixed origins and influences, not part of mainstream Portuguese society.  When my Dad was a kid, man y still celebrated in the old Macau style - heaving tables of food, decorated with home made lace doilies and paper flowers, rows of oranges lining cupboards and shelves (oranges also being a Chinese symbol of happiness and hope). You didn't dare miss Mass, you prayed all week in front of the Nativity.  Lots of other festive dishes like giant meatloaf,  cakes and candies like Farté, cookies supposed to represent soft pillows for the Infant Jesus. Aluar represented the hard mattress (hardship) on which he was born, a refugee, fleeing for his life, something that was integral to our understanding of the meaning of Christmas, when God became man. No Coca-Cola Santa ! no commercial tack and excess.You can't in any case overdose on Alua, or your digestion will rebel. 

Macanese home cooking bears little to no relation to what's served in restaurants these days. Beware many of the cookbooks and "guides".  Even the BBC does Macau food, but the recipes are a joke. Things like African Chicken were invented in the early 1960's by professional chefs. Fortunately, families lucky enough to have hand written recipes from way back, are collectingm them and publishing them within the Macanese community.  Still, closely guarded semi-secrets.  HERE is an excellent and authentic community resource.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Vladimir Jurowski : John Foulds Dynamic Triptych, Shostakovich 11

“Revolution in the Head" strange title for the concert by Vladmir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, featuring John Foulds’s Dynamic Triptych and Shostakovich Symphony no 11 "The Year 1905".  Jurowski's Shostakovich is always good, and he's done this particular symphony many times, but this performance was extraordinary - valedictory, tender, and intense committed. Frankly, we can never get enough of performances like this, and of Jurowski's characteristic intelligence and world-vision. I'll miss his short discussions which go way beyond the score, to the very essence of human creativity.

But why "Revolution in the head" ? Not the obvious connection with the insurrections of 1905, but  what they may or may not have foretold. A few years back there was a quiz through which you could figure out what type of revolutionary you'd have been at the time. It was so erudite and so detailed that the only people who got it would have been historians, but my goodness it was accurate !
What of John Foulds’s Dynamic Triptych op. 88 (1929)? Foulds has cult status and attracts exaggerated claims. Dynamic Triptych is readily accessible, as it deals with three basic elements of composition : mode, timbre and rhythm, each developed with playful inventiveness.  Even humour - listen out for the off the wall sound in the second section when the whole idea of timbre melts away, almost as ethereal as a theremin. The soloist here was Peter Donohue, with whom Sakari Oramo recorded the Dynamic Triptych with the CBSO fourteen years ago.

On the radio, Donohue says that Foulds's' reputation as a composer of light music affected his reception, but Foulds's' World Requiem (1919-21) is hardly light music. More worrying is the idea that Foulds was eclipsed by Schoenberg and American composers, though Ives and Varèse then were marginal figures.  The fact is that composers had been experimenting with new approaches to modality, timbre and rhythm for quite some time.  As for the Orientalism that so inspired Foulds, that too was nothing new.  Orientalism isn't just about the orient but the promise of intriguing new ways of expression. In Germany, the Idea of the East inspired Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart and of course Mahler, Zemlinsky and others.  In France, contact with other civilizations influenced art, poetry, music to an even greater extent. In Italy, think Puccini, and in Russia, think Stravinsky. Even if one were to restrict comparisons only to British music, we have the examples of Gustav Holst, Samuel Colderidge-Taylor, Delius, Sorabji and Benjamin Britten.  And of course Ralph Vaughan Williams and others studying the modes of earlier western tradition.  British music isn't "pastoral" or insular, however much some might prefer it to be. Why blame Schoenberg (and Americans) when so much else was going on ? Foulds’s' Dynamic Triptych isn't that "strange" either when you consider what else was being written in the explosion of creative freedom of the 1920's and 30's. Perhaps Foulds’s' time will really come when he's appreciated not as an oddity but in the context of his time.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Baroque Odyssey - 40 years of Les Arts Florissants - Barbican review

Baroque Odyssey - major retrospective at the Barbican, London,  honouring Les Arts Florissants.  "This gala performance at the Barbican Hall celebrated those 40 years of performances and pioneering, taking us on a tour of the Baroque, starting in England and then hopping across to the Channel to conclude in France. With a flourish, Christie invited the three trumpeters (Guy Ferber, Gilles Rapin, Serge Tizac) of Les Arts Florissants and percussionist Marie-Ange Petit to welcome us with a vibrant, surging fanfare. The Sinfonia to Act 3 of Handel’s Atalanta introduced the rest of the instrumentalists, the violins (led by Hito Kurosaki) standing, the string sound beautifully tender and warm, and enriched by sweet oboes (Peter Tabori and Machiko Ueno) and dynamic theorbo (Thomas Dunford). Zadok the Priest was characterised by fluidity, as lovely long bow strokes swept the waves of harmony onwards, indeed almost seeming to catch out the Choir of Les Arts Florissants who leapt to their feet just in time for their stirring choral entry. Christie coaxes, rather than ‘conducts’: his performers clearly know what he wants and how to create it, and the ensemble camaraderie was plain to see", writes Claire Seymour.

Please read the FULL REVIEW HERE in Opera Today 

This concert and tour co-incides with the release of a special edition recording  by Harmonia Mundi

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Semyon Bychkov : Detlev Glanert Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

At the Barbican, London, Semyon Bychkov conducted Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch, commissioned for the 500th anniversary of the painter's birth,  and premiered in Sint Janskathedraal, 's-Hertogenbosch, in April 2016.  It was a huge public occasion, celebrating the rich heritage of the region. Bosch lived most of his life in 's-Hertogenbosch, which was part of the Duchy of Brabant, with a thriving economy that supported artists as well as merchants. Over the centuries, the area was a target for larger empires - the Dukes of Burgundy, then the Hapsburgs.  Bychkov's programme acknowledges the Flemish background, featuring choral works by Johannes Ockeghem (1410-25? to 1494), Thomas Crecquillon (1505 -1557) and Pierre de la Rue (1452-1518) with Andrew Griffiths conducting the BBC Singers.

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch might be new to London but it was a huge hit, when the first recording was released in June 2017 with Markus Stenz conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which I reviewed at the time. Glanert's by no means unknown. He's been a Proms favourite for years. Please read my review of the Proms performance in 2019 HERE, with Bychkov conducting the BBC SO. Detlev Glanert was one of Hans Werner Henze's few students. Like Henze, Glanert's very prolific - 11 operas, including Caligula which has been staged at the ENO, but sadly misunderstood,  (see more here and my review of the Frankfurt production Frankfurt here). Glanert and Bychkov have known each other from the days when Bychkov conducted WDR Köln, so it would be interesting to hear how he approaches the piece. 

Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.  It helps that the paintings are so much part of popular culture that everyone recognizes his images of extreme excess.  Bosch's people wear medieval dress, but their actions depict the subconscious, the Id and existential guilt in operation, centuries before the concepts of psychology found expression in formal language. Like Carl Orff's  Carmina Burana, Glanert's Requiem is highly dramatic music theatre, adapting the cataclysmic dreamscapes of Bosch's paintings into music of extremes as lurid as Bosch's images.  This Requiem unfolds in 18 episodes, rather like panels in a medieval triptych. This gives the piece structure, making it easy to follow. The teeming, sprawling  panoramas Bosch depicts could plausibly be depicted in sound, but that would probably be asking too much of most audiences. Like Bosch, though, Glanert's piece replicates extremes. Literally heaven and hell, for the premise is the judgement Bosch faces after death. 

Thus the standard elements of a Requiem Mass are interleaved with the Seven Deadly Sins. The acrid flames of hellfire whipping against the smoke of incense. A harsh Voice (David Wilson-Johnson, narrating) calls from above "Hieronymus Bosch!" Immediately we spring to attention.  Bells ring. Throbbing, rushing figures in the choral line, suggesting the doomed hordes we see in Bosch's paintings. The orchestral lines veer wildly, lit by screaming brass, the chorus screaming to crescendo.   Suddenly the forces fragment and, from the silence, a slow, low penitential intonation.  An abstract Requiem Aeternam, the choral line flowing ambiguously, in almost microtonal haze. like smoke.  In Gluttony the bass (the aptly named Christof Fischesser) sings of food, his lines circular and rotund. The text may be in Latin, but the meaning is clear.  The choir responds with the long, thin lines of an Absolve Domine. reinforced by Wrath with tenor (Gerhard Siegel)  and a Dies Irae which ends with a vivid orchestral flourish. Another demon, Envy, fights back. Soprano Aga Mikolaj's fluid, curving lines mimic the lines in the "heavenly" chorus - imitation is a sign of envy! But the serene  Juste judex prevails. 

But where are we? The organ solo (Leo van Doeselaar) lets rip with a frenzy that suggests a cathedral organ hijacked by Satan.  Despite the extremes of volume and tempi, the lines between heaven and hell are, tellingly, blurred. In Sloth, the soprano sings langorously, joined in sensuous duet by the mezzo (Ursula Hesse von den Steinen). Pride, Lust and Avarice appear, but the balance shifts towards the big guns : Full choir, offstage choir, and orchestra in increasingly full throttle : listen for the jazzy culmination of the Domine Jesu Christe. and the funky trumpet that heralds the Agnus Dei. With the Libera Me and Peccatum, we are in Carmina Burana territory, bursting forth in a blaze, the earthly chorus in raucuous flow, augmented by brass and percussion and the offstage chorus singing of lux perpetua.  Big forces. But is might right ? Glanert's Requiem ends In Paradisium, here the Voice from Above recites lines from the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic visions, marking the end of the world and of time.  Now, when the Voice screams "Hieronymus!", he doesn't add a demonic epithet. With an unearthly low hum, the choir sings of the chorus angelorum that brings eternal rest.

Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch is a public piece rather than a work of inward  contemplation. Nonetheless, as with so much that Glanert writes, subversive humour lurks within. In this Bosch Requiem, Glanert again and again mixes grotesque with irony. Just as the vastness of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appealed to Nazi taste, the vastness of  this Requiem veers on parody.  Will it be loved for its vulgarity or its irony? Just as the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch reveal the viewer, Glanert's Requiem reveals the listener.  In this case, I think it's the wamth of Glanert's vision, and his compassion for the quirkier aspects of human life, which Hieronymus Bosch himself  had no qualms about depicting.  In the 2 1/2 years since I first heard the piece, it's grown on me, a lot.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Mariss Jansons treasures now online

Plenty of good Mariss Jansons classic concerts online now, in memorial. 

Mariss Janson's last concert at Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Antonín Dvořák Symphony no 9, Saint-Saëns Symphony no 3 (from 22nd March 2019) Highly recommended !

Mariss Jansons with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 2012 with Nina Stemme. Strauss Don Juand and Wagner Wesendock-Lieder. Only available to 31/12/19 and in Europe excluding UK. Or use a VPN.

Mariss Janson's Brahms Requiem from the Lucerne Festival in 2006 This one's really good ! Do not miss.

Mariss Jansons last concert in Munich from 11th October 2019 - Strauss and Brahms' Symphony no 4.

Scads on France Musique on Mariss Jansons

Probably plenty more if you search., there was a concert from St Petersburg, (not YT, which is full of pirates) which seems to have been pulled. It was somewhat unusual, it was a celebration when Janssons was honouring Temirakov. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 Martyn Brabbins Hyperion

Latest in the Hyperion series, Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances. Following on from  A Sea Symphony (read more here)  and A London Symphony, this series is proving to be a major contribution to the discography. Vivid, thought-through performances, immensely rewarding.

In this Vaughan Williams Symphony no 3, the introduction to the Molto moderato seems to vibrate as if from within. Deliberately ambiguous textures, constantly shifting and unsettled. Despite the poignant  violin, (which might suggest The Lark Ascending) this is not complacent.  As Vaughan Williams himself wrote, "It’s really wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night in the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was wonderful Corot-like landscape in the sunset. It’s not really lambkins frisking at all, as most people take for granted."  The oboe and cor anglais intensify the irony, for these instruments remind us what the fields of France might have been before they became battlegrounds.

The horn solo with which the Lento movement begins further reinforces the battlefield connotations, at once a reveille and and Last Taps. Gradually lines stretch forward, but the landscape is still haunted by the ambiguities of the first movenment , the panorama seen, as it were behind smoke and rain.  The trumpet cadenza, played without valves sounds deliberately hollow, as if blown not quite in tune by an ordinary foot soldier : too much polish would not work. Yet more irony, since it takes considerable skill on the part of a trained professional to achieve such results.  The ascending tessitura suggests gradual change of perspective, upwards into another realm. Does the trumpet here foretell the Last Trumpet at the End of Time ?  In the third movement, bright figures suggest freedom.  They introduce the vigourous, earthy dances of the scherzo, which may or may not signify the music of earlier times with which Vaughan Williams was so familiar. But are these dances bucolic or brutalist ?  This symphony operates on many different levels.

In the final movement, Vaughan Williams employs a human voice, (Elizabeth Watts) albeit one singing ethereal wordless vocalize.  If the trumpet at the end of the second movement signifires the Last Trumpet, the voice here might signify angels, but not neccessarily. Perhaps it’s a reminder that some things are beyond human comprehension and may never be bridged.  Elizabeth Watts' timbre is pure and unworldly, with just enough warmth to suggest some tantalizing form of comfort. Her voice echoes from afar, for distance matters : there is a dividing line between this world and whatever may or may not lie ahead.  The re-entry of the orchestra  brings us back to earth. There are echoes of the dances in the scherzo, of the high string tessituras and wind instruments, now embellished by harp and celeste.  The expansive, searching lines now rise with greater fullness than before, yet recede into near-silence. The voice continues, alone.

Of his Symphony no 4 in F minor, Vaughan Williams told Sir Henry Wood, "I don't like the work itself much but it is undoubtedly a very fine piece". Good music "exists" by its own creative volition : it's not manufactured to preconceived specifications like a consumer product.  As the composer was later to write "I do think it beautiful...because we know that beauty can come from unbeautiful things". 

Brabbins shapes the introduction so it seems to explode with fierce but controlled force.  Although this fanfare might seem shocking, it does connect to other aspects of the composer’s work.  At times I was reminded of the figure in the Antiphon in Five Mystical Songs "The Church with psalms must shout....My God and King ". Vaughan Williams, who knew the Bible and Messianic traditions, understood the concept of forces so powerful that they cannot be constrained.  Pounding ostinato, trumpets (again, Biblical significance) ablaze, trombones and tuba add depth.  The theme isn't meant to be soothing. It could reflect the "terrible beauty" from the Book of Job Ch 37, 17-22, though there is nothing religious about this symphony. The references merely serve to indicate that a cataclysm of some sort is being unleashed.

More brass in the second movement, marked andante moderato, but this time more restrained, the strings of the BBCSO murmuring en masse, from which the woodwind line rises, moving ever upwards.  A sense of unease : tense pizzicato creating a fragile though regular beat. The flute melody, exquisitely played, has a poignant quality: painfully alone but unbowed.  Wildness returns with the third movement, brass pounding, trombones creating long zig-zag lines. For a moment the tuba leads a trio with grunting bassoons. The term "scherzo" means "joke" but the humour here is darkly ironic. This colours the sprightly theme which follows : it's not escapist. The swaggering thrust of the first movement returns, angular dissonances flying in all directions, clod-hopping ostinato suggesting grotesque horror.  The Finale is "con epilogo fugato" : no easy resolution, no easy answers.  Given Brabbins' grounding in modern and modern British music, his approach to this symphony is particularly interesting, full of insight and freedom. intuitively executed.

The bonus on this recording is the premiere of Saraband, taken by Brabbins from an unpublished manuscript. This brief cantata, for voice, chorus and orchestra, with David Butt-Philip as soloist, sets lines from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Fautus, describing Helen of Troy. Drafted in 1913-14, but not completed, the work was set aside by other pressures of work. Even in embryo, it's an interesting work which bears the mark of the composer at this fertile stage in his career.

Mariss Jansons, aged 10, with conductor Dad and Svatoslav Richter

Arvids Jansons, with Mariss in short pants, aged 10. The pianist is Svatoslav Richter.  The value of music education early in life !  In this case music education at the highest, hands-on level. Early exposure to the idea that the arts are a fundamental part of civilization.  Some, these days, live the mantra "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun!", since they already know all there is to know.  Their loss.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Mourning Mariss Jansons

Mariss Jansons has died, aged only 76.  "An era draws to a close" as BR Klassik has announced.  "Es war diese glühende Intensität, die das Musizieren von Mariss Jansons so unverwechselbar machte. Sein Leben war von rigorosem Arbeitsethos geprägt, von unermüdlichem Partiturstudium und schonungsloser Selbstdisziplin." (He had a glowing intensity that made his musicianship distinctive. His life was marked by a rigorous work ethic, tireless score study and relentless self-discipline".
Jansons wasn't flashy, he wasn't vulgar and he didn't pander to popularity.  He was motivated above all by music and his love for his art.  His mother was an opera singer, but, because she was Jewish, she bore him under harsh conditions in hiding in Riga in 1943. Her family didn't survive.  His father Arvid Jansons (1914-1984) conducted the Riga Opera. Latvia was soviet bloc, so in Cold War times, he also worked in Leningrad, with Mravinsky and Sanderling.  As a small child, Mariss grew up immersed in opera and ballet . He’d pull his shirt up as if he was wearing a frock coat and play at being a conductor. "Bücher waren meine Partituren,ein Stück Holz mein Taktstock. Ich war total begeistert von diesem Beruf", he said. (Books were my scores, and a little wooden stick my baton). Later in life, he'd mentor many others, including Andris Nelsons. I cannot comprehend the hostility that has surfaced in some circles after the news of Jansons' death.  So what if he's not known in all corners of the earth ? Better that his passing gives those who missed out during his lifetime a chance to find out more.
Jansons was such a familiar figure that it seemed as though he was part of the fabric of our listening experience.  We seemed to hear him all the time, in many places. So many concerts, so many recordings !  Currently, I'm listening to his Mahler Symphony no 3 with Oslo Philharmonic, released just weeks ago.  Most attention goes to Jansons's mainstream work, but he was also a champion of more unusual repertoire.  Here is my review of Jansons conducting the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm, probably Germany's greatest living composer.  Sadly appropriate in the circumstances.

"....Is there an afterlife in Rihm's meditation on life and death ? His Requiem-Strophen concludes with an Epilog, using the text of Hans Sahl's poem Strophen, published in 2009. The poem itself is elliptical, phrases repeated with slight variation, so it lends itself perfectly to Rihm's approach. “Ich gehe langsam aus der Welt heraus in eine Landschaft jenseits aller Ferne”…..and what I was and am and will stay forever, “zeht mit mir ohne Ungeduld und Eile, als war ich nie gewesen oder kaum”.(Go with me without impatience as if I had never been or hardly was). The soloists are in repose, but the choir sings on, serenely, and the orchestra rises to new heights. The ebb and flow and stop start pulse remains, its significance revealed. The pulse of an individual human body might cease, but others continue to beat and will do so in bodies as yet unborn. Rihm, like Schoenberg before him, has always acknowledged his appreciation of Johannes Brahms, whose German Requiem is an obvious model, though Rihm's idiom is uniquely his own. Rihm's Requiem-Strophen is therefore much more than a generalized Requiem but also a tribute to artists, poets and composers who have gone on before, and an inspiration for creative minds in the future."

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Britten Peter Grimes - Skelton, Gardner, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Britten's Peter Grimes at the Royal Festival Hall with Stuart Skelton, Edward Gardner conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Exactly the same cast (except for the Boy apprentice) in London as at Bergen in May 2017. What an outstanding performance that was ! How does London compare ?

When "Sexy Ed" Gardner left the ENO for Bergen, many of his fans wept openly, but it was a wise move on his part, since, until that time, his career had been relatively insular. He needed to branch out, both in terms of international exposure and in terms of repertoire. And the Bergen Philharmonic, one of the oldest orchestras in Europe, needed livening up.  A match made in Heaven?

Bergen is sounding better than it has in years, much sparkier and classier, without losing a distinctive flavour.  The cast list was superb - possibly one of the best that can be put together at present - so no surprises there. But what impressed me even more was the Bergen Philharmonic. This Peter Grimes seemed to come to them intuitively: they don't at all have an "English" sound, but that's all to the good.   Though Britten was an Englishman through and through, his music is far too individual to fit pigeonholes.

This Peter Grimes sounded like a force of Nature, surging like a storm blowing across the North Sea. You could feel the pull of the ocean in this playing.  The Bergeners seem to connect  instinctively to how unseen forces might control destiny, just as nature controls tides, winds and waves. Seamen, like Grimes, understand these things, or they don't survive. Grimes doesn't survive, but what happens to him is more than the pettiness of a small provincial community. When he sails out alone, and tips his boat, he's offering himself in a kind of sacrificial atonement.  He may have been abused himself as a boy, forced into a trade he might not have chosen.  His music suggests that there's a sensitive, poetic side to his personality he may have had to repress, even had other choices been open to him.
Skelton's been singing the part so long and so well that  he can convey Grimes's personality in myriad nuances. But with the Bergen Philharmonic around him, it's as if the Furies themselves were swirling about him, invisible to us, but in his head.  His "Now the Great Bear and Pleiades" was beautiful, but his long Act Three monologue was haunted, he and the orchestra observing the subtle, but important, changes as Grimes's mind begins to unravel. Now we know why Ellen Orford sets such store in knitting. She needs control, every bit as much as Mrs Sedley and Auntie do in their own ways. Ellen isn't as nice as she thinks she is.  Notice how Britten writes Grand Opera parody into her music, when she decides to shelter the child from Hobson the carrier. On some level, Ellen is a diva, a heroine in her own mind, trapped in a small town with no prospects, like everyone else in this claustrophobic community.  Giselle Allen sings well, but Ellen is, like Grimes, illuminated by the music around her. Because Peter Grimes was Britten's first mature opera, and probably Britain's first mature opera, too, it's tempting to think of it primarily as an opera.  But the orchestral writing is magnificent and highly inventive: not for nothing that the Sea Interludes work so well as stand-alone.  Britten knew the music of his time, and the operas of Alban Berg in particular, where orchestral passages shape the narrative.  In Peter Grimes, the orchestration is huge in comparison to Britten's later works, knitting  the opera together, in a sense.  The swells and surges are huge, but not significantly fulsome in the way that, say, The Flying Dutchman is cataclysmic.  Britten, being English, is too polite. Not all that many detect the way Britten used quirky humour to subvert convention.  But it's there, all right.

Please read my numerous pieces on Peter Grimes, and on  Gloriana HERE and on Albert Herring HERE. Britten is oblique : his targets don't know when they're being got at. Gardner "gets" Britten, so he brought out the undercurrents.  Perhaps there is prostitution in places like Aldeburgh, but it's pretty discreet.  The music in the pub echoes American dance-hall music, which Britten knew from his sojourn in America, and would have included for a purpose. Peter Grimes isn't really set in 18th-century or even 19th-century Suffolk, whatever the origins of the tale.  Auntie, her customers and her Nieces sell out, but Peter Grimes is the one character who doesn't lose his integrity, warped as he may be. Grimes doesn't do games. And so he has to die.

Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic players are magnificent in the big surging swells. Wonderful percussion, the timpani rumbling like thunder.  Thor, beating his hammer. And why not? The Vikings roamed the North Sea.  Their genes must be part of coastal DNA. Baleful horns, moaning bassoons.   But the quieter passages were even more revealing. Britten observed the world around him. We can hear "star" music andd delicate diminuendoes that glow like phosphoresence over the water at night, or the sparkle of light on a Sunday morning. Outstanding playing from the lead violist, who got a well-deserved curtain call on her own. Beautiful harp playing,and strings that kept together smoothly enough, while still sounding individual and lively, like the choruses, where the variety of voices adds vividness to the impact.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Wigmore Hall, Mahler, Schubert, Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

Photo: Roger Thomas
At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder.  Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.  

Everyone has heard the Schubert favourites Schuen and Heide chose, maybe hundreds of times, but Schuen and Heide made them feel fresh and personal. An den Mond D 259, illuminted with subtle restraint,  Im Frühling D882, full-throated and free-spirited, Abendstern D806, gently contemplative. Schuen and Heide know how to programme, varying songs of introspection with exuberant outbursts like Der Musensohn D764.  The second half of the recital was even better : a particularly tender Sei mie gegrüsst D741 and Dass sie hier gewesen D775. Together they demonstrated Schuen's range, which effortlessly reaches the upper limits of baritone, to near-tenor brightness.  He's still young, but has huge potential - definitely a singer to follow. (Read more about him on this site) 

Schuen and Heide have often explored less familiar parts of the repertoire, like their outstanding Frank Martin Sechs monologe aus Jedermann so it was interesting to hear how they'd do Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which just about everyone has done, not always to best effect.  This is very much a young man's adventure, as it was for Mahler himself, setting out on his own journey.  Despite a slightly cautious start, understandable enough, Schuen soon got into his stride. Schuen's diction is agile, an energetic, even stride in his phrasing.  The poet sets out, upset because he's been rejected by a girl, but his love may have been little more than teenage fantasy. Almost immediately he is drawn to Nature and the world beyond himself.  "Ziküth, Ziküth" here rang strong and pure, as if modelled on hearing bird song ringing in the wild, for the bird symbolizes destiny - Siegfried , heading off down the Rhine, led by a wood dove in the forest.  Thus revitalised, the poet looks ahead. Schuen breathed into the phrase "Blümlein blau! Verdorre nicht!" making the words glow with wonder. Anyone who's seen gentians in Alpine regions, growing out between rocks,  knows exactly why they can feel miraculous. No surprise then that Schuen and Heide gave the second song Ging heut' Morgen über's Feld  such heartfelt vigour.  Flowing, decorative  phrasing in "Wird's nicht eine schöne Welt?Zink! Zink! Schön und flink! Wie mir doch der Welt gefällt!"Sparkling piano figures lead into a new, more serene mood, where lines stretch smoothly, held for several measures, as if basking in Sonnenschein.

With "Ich hab' ein glühend Messer" the mood shifts, like sudden storm, descending on a mountain.   The dark resonance in Schuen's lower register highlighted the drama. But yet again, Mahler doesn't dwell on angst: the drama here is almost as if the poet were reminding himself to be angry - as teenagers do - when he has in fact moved on.  In the final song, Schuen showed the lyricism and tenderness in his timbre, which in many ways is even more impressive than the volume he can achieve when needed.  The Lindenbaum reputedly has narcotic qualities, that can intoxicate those inhaling the scent of its leaves and flowers. Perhaps the poet might die (as suggested in Winterreise) but for Mahler, the song is lullaby. Sleep can refresh and re-invigorate.  Schuen's style is direct, with clear-eyed focus, totally appropriate to this cycle.

Mahler's Rückert-Lieder are not a cycle, as such, and the sequence can be altered.  Schuen and Heide put the more overt songs of love together forming a miniature cycle of their own, followed by Um Mitternacht, in which the poet confronts mortality, and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, in which the poet comes away from the cares of the world. The Rückert-Lieder are in an altogether more sophisticate league than Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen,  but Schuen and Heide rose to the challenge. Their performance here was the highlight of the whole evening. Lovely as these songs are, loveliness alone means little. What impressed me most was the emotional maturity and artistic insight Schuen and Heide brought to this interpretation, which can elude some bigger-name celebrities.  A particularly beautiful Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft. Again, a Lindenbaum, whose scent is powerful, but invisible. Subtlety is of the essence : Schuen and Heide seemed to make the music hover, shaping lines without forcing them, Schuen breathing carefully into each phrase, using air itself, like an Äolsharfe. Vowel sounds surged, consonants softened. It is significant that Rückert's poem is almost minimalist, images suggested with as few words as possible.  Similar gentleness in Liebst du um Schönheit. Rückert's lines are again deceptively simple, almost childlike.  Schuen understands that less is more, allowing the song to reveal its purity as it unfolds.

Um Mitternacht thus operates as contrast, not only in purely musical terms, but also to emphasize meaning. If the poet dies, his dilemma is even more poignant if he had had a good life.  While the other songs are near-lullaby, Um Mitternacht is an anthem, ringing out with impassioned dignity, connecting the individual to the cosmos. "Um Mitternacht hab' ich gedacht Hinaus in dunkle Schranken."  All that separates life from death is the beating of  the heart, "ein einz'ger Puls". An image of fragile humanity, reminding us that all the powers of this world can come suddenly to nothing. As so often in Mahler, bombast is inappropriate.  Instead, humility and respect for something greater than the individual. "Herr über Tod und Leben Du hältst die Wacht Um Mitternacht!". Heide's lines are firm and steady : Schuen's voice rings with dignity and affirmation. Thus the logic of concluding with Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen : after the storm, the calm of  true wisdom. The protagonist isn't actually dead, but has learned that wasting time on pettiness is futile.  "Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel..... ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel, in meinem Lieben, in meinen Lied". This was an excellent performance, but in time, Schuen will develop and find even more in this group of songs.

Thus the logic behind the choice of encore, Urlicht, Mahler's setting of Nietszche, which he incorporated into his Symphony no 2, heard here in the version for voice and piano.  In the symphony it serves as a transition between the "worldy cares" evoked in the qoutation of Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt in the previous movement and the resolution, the "resurrection" in the finale. "O Röschen rot!", an image of beauty that must, inevitably fade, Schuen's voice warming the "o" sounds, so they felt sensual, which occur again in the next phrase, but with a chill.  But this nadir of suffering is but a phase. Even angels cannot divert the supplicant from his/her goal. "Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!" Schuen sang with resolve, suggesting great inner strength.  God will light the way to "das ewig selig Leben!". 

Franz Liszt's S290, Morgens steh' ich auf und frage, a setting of Heinrich Heine, provided the second encore.  Again, a deceptively simple text, suggesting more than mere words, Liszt's setting more pianistic than Schumann's. Schuen and Heide are planning a complete series of Liszt Lieder, the first volume of which features all three versions of the Tre Sonnetti de Petrarca (Petrarca Sonnets).  Please read my review of that HERE.  

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Britten Death in Venice, McVicar, Royal Opera House

photo: Catherine Ashmore, Royal Opera House

Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice in a new production by David McVIcar, at the Royal Opera House, reviewed HERE in Opera Today by Claire Seymour who wrote the book Benjamin Britten and his operas. The Royal Opera House isn't the ideal venue for an opera like Death in Venice, which is why it's usually done in smaller houses, as indeed most of Britten;s operas are, given their intense "inwardness".  Gloriana is the exception, not the rule, but even that work is infinitely better when it's understood as an opera-within-an opera,  its powerful message hidden from those who listen only on the surface.

Doing Death in Venice at ROH involves re-thinking scale and perspective. At Covent Garden, McVicar can contrast the grandeur of Venice with its decay and corruption.  Nothing is grand in a city of plague! Aschenbach, the quintessential outsider, comes thinking he'll find inspiration, but it is the beauty of Tadzio that he's drawn to, and that eventually contributes to his death.  Deborah Warner's production for the Met and ENO was popular because it emphasizes the surface glamour, exactly the opposite of what Britten intended.  That says more about audience taste than about the opera itself.  So it's good to read Claire Seymour's analysis in full.

"The tremendous achievement of McVicar, his creative team and a superb,
extensive cast, is to simultaneously portray the mythical aura of the city
of Venice and present a disturbing portrait of a psychology laid bare. The
naturalism of the 1910s setting and the astonishingly detailed realism of
Vicki Mortimer’s designs are intruded by the surreal, the grotesque and the
demonic. The result for Aschenbach is catastrophic.

"McVicar, Mortimer and lighting designer Paul Constable exercise masterly
control of these two intersecting energies, capturing in form and flux both
the wretched reality and the mythic grandeur of Venice. A prevailing
darkness is punctuated by sudden illuminations of light. The golden glow
that greets Aschenbach when the Hotel Manager reveals the glorious view
from the window of his room, for a brief moment bathes the drama in hope.
But, elsewhere, for all the vivid colour that Apollo’s sunrays reveal, the
Lido often seems to shimmer with a secret sickness. When the vista opens to
reveal the glistening teal waters of the limitless sea, the easefulness
that the brightness offers is tempered by a thick, unmoving green glow. The
sky above is cloudless, but it is muted by a patina of soft grey or pink
flush.When Aschenbach arrives by gondola through the swirling mists, we can
almost smell the pungency - what he later describes as a “sweetish
medicinal cleanliness, overlaying the smell of still canals

Friday, 22 November 2019

George Antheil re-assessed vol. 3 : "Zingareska" symphony, John Storgårds

The Chandos George Antheil series with John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic continues with Volume III featuring Antheil's Symphony no 1 "Zingareska" (1920-1922, rev 1923).  This series is important because it highlight's Antheil's primary status as a composer of art music for concert performance. Indeed, he is infinitely better known as the avant-gardiste who created Ballet méchanique than for the music he later wrote in Hollywood.  Ballet méchanique is a seminal work, very much a part of the cultural and artistic renaissance that was Paris in the 1920's, and defines Antheil's whole career.  He started out as a composer of "serious" art music and continued as such until his death. His finest music for cinema was also written for  independent, often obscure, art-movie studios. Please read more about Ballet mécanique HERE and HERE and much else on Antheil elsewhere on this site.With Antheil's Symphony no 1, Storgårds puts the focus directly on Antheil's early work, before he went to Paris, and places it in relation to later works like McKonkey’s Ferry (1948) and Nocturne in Skyrockets (1951), receiving its first recording here.  Antheil began what was to be his first Symphony when he was barely 20, but its originality and creative vision are remarkable for the period, particularly for a a man who was still a student.  It was inspired by sounds of the area in which Antheil grew up,"a deliberate abandonment of academic compositional techniques in favour of music driven bty emotional and atmospheric stimuli", as Mervyn Cooke writes in his notes.  Yet it is not a work of nostalgia, but incoporates new ideas and influences, including ragtime and circus music, and the music of Stravinsky, with special reference to Petroushka.  It epitomizes the two sides of Antheil's art : modern America and Europe, and draws them together.  The title "Zingareska" was not Antheil's, but one can hear why the heady eroticism of gypsy music would express the nature of  a free spirit like Antheil. 

A plaintive solo violin announces the beginning of the first movement, answered by darker, more ambigious winds and brass. The mood is nocturnal, evoking "the the fragrance of honeysuckle on the New Jersey night air" as Antheil wrote later, but also disturbing. Dark, ambiguous forces surround the Innocente of the violin and the pastoral woodwind theme that follows it. A section marked Volupté surges, suggesting passion, but the movement ends in sharp dischords and a Lamentoso.  Perhaps a clue might lie in that Antheil was intensely in love, but the girl's mother disapproved, and took her off to Europe. For Antheil himself, this was the impetus that led him to head there too, changing his destiny. In contrast, the second movement is wilder, more "primitive" in the sense of Stravinsky and early modern art.  Bold, robust chords lead to stillness from which a solo violin emerges, followed by clarinet. Darkness encroaches again, blown away temporarily by wild "ragtime" rhythms and angular striding steps.  The parts for winds and brass  are cheeky, almost cartoon-like in their defiance, to the extent that the orchestral players of the Berlin Philharmonic under Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg burst out laughing in rehearsal. Only the first two movements were premiered in 1922 on Antheil's suggestion.
The third movement, though, is poignant, percussion and strings creating a bell-like backdrop to the entry of the solo violin, which appears like a dancer, alone on stage. Petroushka, the puppet who is forced to wander but but has no home, setting the context for the ragtime and circus themes. Carnival may be fun, but masks hidden sorrow.  Hence the chill of the ending, and descending chords.  Is there resolution in the last movement, or more defiance ? The exuberant "ragtime" theme alternates with themes that are more haunted (exteneded wind choruses), and a section marked "sardonic"before a suddden, elusive coda. Antheil's teacher, Ernest Bloch, had such regard for the sympathy that he wanted Monteux to conduct it, and later, hearing that Antheil was penniless, helped him out financially. 

Antheil's McKonkey's Ferry, from 1948, is a concert overture nspired by the image of George Washington crossing the Delaware in 1776.  It is dramatic, and patriotic, but as so often with Antheil, there can be other interpretations.  By this stage, the composer had been back in the United States for fifteen years, having been forced out of Europe by the rise of the Nazis.  Perhaps the aural images of  the ferocious snowstorm through which Washington battled give the surface triumphalism in this music more personal meaning.  The Capitol of the World (1953-55), a suite for orchestra from a ballet based on a tale by Ernest Hemingway, is also bittersweet. A waiter pretends to be a matador, but is killed, impaled by knives embedded on a chair representing an artificial bull.  So much for glorious fantasies about the bullring ! Do not be deluded by the flamenco flourishes and lively rhythms : this is tragedy, all the more painful because the subject is tawdry.  With The Golden Bird, (1921) we return once again to Antheil's youth.  Antheil was a virtuoso pianist, and this piece, originally for piano, which he himself orchestrated, demonstates his facility for exotic effects even at an early age.
In Nocturne in Skyrockets (1951) we glimpse the heights Antheil was capable of achieving. It is a tightly constructed yet almost magical miniature, with long, searching chords rising upwards, as if into the freedom of the upper atmosphere. Delicate spiralling notes suggest fireworks, sudden explosions of light in a dark sky, doomed to self-destruct. Yet for a moment, such beauty !   With this Chandos series,
John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic make a strong case for appreciating  Antheil at his best : a composer whose work stands comparison with Charles Ives and Edgard Varèse, in terms of the boldness of conception, but with an entirely individual and original personality.   Please also read my review HERE of the second volume in this series, with Antheil's Symphonies no 3 "American"and No 6 "After Delacroix" and much else about Antheil on this site.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Benjamin Britten in wig, squirming

On Benjmin Britten's 106th birthday, a photo from one hundred years ago. It's easy to spot the future composer - the kid in the silly wig.  He's playing Tom in a production of Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, staged by his pushy mother (the woman holding him).  Presumably this was twee, in the fashion of the day.  You'd be squirming, too.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Une soirée chez Berlioz - lyrical rarities, on Berlioz's own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz - an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D'Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar) and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano). The booklet notes by Bruno Messina, the Berlioz scholar, read like poetry,  evoking what an intimate evening with Berlioz himself might have been, in the company of those closest to him, making music for their own pleasure. "Ni festival, ni requiem, ni symphonie, ni opéra, mais une invitation à partager une soirée chez Berlioz et quelques impressions musicales, de celles qui ne font pas beaucoup de bruit mais qui s’inscrivent dans le cœur (comme ces inflexions “des voix chères qui se sont tues”) et qu’on porte longtemps avec soi…".  Though this soirée chez Berlioz is refined and lyrical, and can be enjoyed on its own terms, this recording includes many lesser known works, which enhance our appreciation of  the breadth of Berlioz's art, sensitively and beautifully performed. A must for true Berlioz aficionados.

Indeed, the instruments played here are not only period but  unique.  The guitar belonged to Berlioz himself, who used it regularly, and to Paganinni before him. The maker was Jean-Nicole Grobert, whom the composer knew well. Given its significance, Berlioz inscribed the guitar with his signature when he donated it to the Conservatoire de Musique. The piano was made by Ignace Pleyel and was used by Chopin, and is beutifully preserved. More technical details in the notes.

The evening begins with Plaisir d'amour. It is heard here in the 1784 original for voice and piano by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini. Berlioz liked it so much that he made an arrangement for voice and small orchestra, with flutes, clarinets, horns and strings. As a child, Berlioz enjoyed the tales of the poem's author, Jean-Pierre Florian.  Around 1859, he made an arrangement for voice and small orchestra but he would undoubtedly have heard and played the original for voice and piano. Williencourt's technique makes this Pleyel grand from 1842 sound as agile and delicate as a fortepiano. Viens, aurore and Vous qui loin d’une amante are settings of other poems by Florian in troubador style. Roussel's background in lute and early stringed instruments enhances his way with Berlioz's period guitar. Viens, aurore is a setting by Lélu (1798-c1822) and Vous qui loin d’une amante  a setting by François Devienne (1759-1803).

Berlioz's La captive is best known in its orchestral version H60 from 1848, but is heard here in Berlioz's adaptation for voice, piano and violincello (Bruno Philippe)  made soon after the first version for voice and piano, from 1832.  Seven songs for voice and guitar follow and three for solo guitar, interspersed with settings by Berlioz and Liszt.  These are well worth including since this rare opportunity to hear Berlioz's own guitar should not be missed. The timbre is distinctive, warmer and less strident than guitars made for different repertoire, particularly sympathetic to French style and to the elegance of D'Oustrac's voice.  These relatively unknown works also provide context for Liszt's L'Idée fixe LW A16b  an Andante amoroso "pour le piano d’après une mélodie de Hector Berlioz" making further connections between Berlioz and Liszt. Though Liszt generally preferred an Érard, this Pleyel is still closer to the instruments Berlioz knew so well, and appropriate for the the intimate feel of this "soirée chez Berlioz".

Also included are Liszt's transcriptions for piano (LW 205) of Berlioz's "Danse de Sylphides" from The Damnation of Faust, and "Marche des Pèlerins" (LW A29) from Harold en Italie Berlioz' Le Jeune Pâtre breton H 65C to a pastoral text by Auguste Brizeux (1803-1858)  a poet and man of the theatre who popularized the language and heritage of Brittany.  Hence, perhaps, Berlioz's use of the cor naturel, (Lionel Renoux), evoking the sounds of Breton lovers calling to each other over mountains and valleys, "semble un soupir mêlé d’ennuis et de plaisir". Berlioz's Fleuve du Tage (H.5) for voice and guitar is very early Berlioz indeed, written at the age of 16. The Élégie en prose H.47 for voice and guitar sets a translation of a poem by Thomas Moore and comes from Berlioz's Neuf mélodies irlandaises, op. 2, H. 38 .


Saturday, 16 November 2019

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete - Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161  with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Since no complete edition of the songs exists apart from the Alexander edition for Breitkopf and Härtel in 1919-21, this may be more than an ordinary completist series. There could be as many as 145 variants, with questions of classification, since Liszt did not not assign opus numbers. This recording seeks to highlight the connections between Liszt's three settings oPetrach’s ts 47, 104 and 123.  Recorded in the Marküs -Sittikus Saal in Hohenems, these are performances of great sensitivity, as we'd expect from Schuen, and Heide. Andrè Schuen is easily one of the more promising young baritones around, and one whose genuine love for repertoire leads him to in-depth performances of more eclectic material. He recorded an outstanding Frank Martin Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann as well as Schumann, Beethoven and Wanderer, an excellent collection of Schubert Lieder. Please read more about that HERE and HERE.  At the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 23rd November, Schuen and Heide are giving a recital of Schubert and Mahler (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Rückert Lieder). Be there ! I grabbed tickets months in advance. 
Liszt's first settings of the Petrach sonnets date from 1842-6 while the second settings were completed between 1864-1882. Composed decades apart, these are far more than simple "variations" but thoroughly thought-through new works, showing the evolution of Liszt's approach though time.  The order of songs is also transposed. In the first Sonetto 104, (Pace non trovo) is declamatory, each verse clearly separated by a piano interlude. The line "equalamente mi spiace morte et vita" rises with operatic flourish, before a hushed ending, marked by two assertive chords on the piano for emphasis.  The second Sonetto 104, better reflects the brief phrases in the poem, which flow in succession, building up tension towards the line "né mi vuol vivo, né mi trae impaccio" expressing the poet’s frustration. The line "in questa stato son, donna, por voi" is all the more moving because it expresses love, tenderly complemented by a gentle piano postlude. 
In the first Sonetto 47 (Benedetto sia 'l giorno), the mood is gentler, suggesting the purity of the beloved.  Elaboration is focussed on the third strophe "Benedette le voci tante" where phrases are repeated, adding lustre to the name "Laura", which Schuen projects with glowing awe. The second setting of this sonetto is even more sensitive, Liszt's attention even better attuned to the scansion of Petrarch's flowing phrases,  "'l giorno, e 'l mese, e l'anno, e la stagione, e 'l tempo, e l'ora, e 'l punto", which are all connected, since they underline the meaning of the poem.  Schuen's perfect diction underlines the melodious nature of the text.  Only in the line "E le piaghe, ch'infino al cor mi vanno" is there a hint of the pain the poet is going through.  With such subtlety,  Liszt has no need to decorate the third strophe : its impact comes from the sincere, direct expression of emotion.  This makes the final strophe even more moving, as it gradually decelarates into quietude.  For the poet, nothing matters but the beloved : "Ch' è sol di lei" sings Schuen with deep feeling, "si ch'altra non v'ha parte". As the song subsides, the word "benedette" is intoned, like a prayer. 
An extended piano prelude introduces the first setting of Sonetto 123 (I' vidi in terra), the genly rocking melody taken up in the vocal line. The beloved is now a memory,  "par sogni, ombre e fume". Though there are differences in the two settings for voice and piano, the focus is now on the poet, alone. For Liszt as composer, such personal expression would have favoured the piano. Given that the versions for solo piano from Années de Pélerinage, Année II (Italie) S 161 no. 4 to 6 were written shortly after  the first settings of the songs for voice and piano, S 270a, it is natural that the resemblances are strong. The popularity of the pieces for piano thus derives from the emotional power inherent in the songs, even shorn of text.  Hearing all three sets together enhances understanding of their context and the role they play in the development of Liszt's oeuvre.  Paradoxically, this also means a greater appreciation of the later set, known as S 270b,  but much more mature, subtle and  sophisticated than mere variation. 
Appositely, Schuen and Heide conclude this first volume in the Liszt Lieder series with Liszt's setting of Victor Hugo, Oh! Quand je dors, S 282, here in the second version, completed in 1859.  Many of Liszt's songs are standard repertoire, but the time has come for a re-evaluation of all the songs, in context.  Recently, Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës presented Liszt Lieder together with his Mélodies in the French style, demonstrating how original Liszt was, a composer "beyond boundaries", so to speak. Please read more about that HERE.  This recording with Schuen and Heide is even better, so good that it should be essential listening for all.