Jonas Kaufmann

If it’s early morning whereever you are when you look at this post, I recommend you listen to the link a little later. Act three of Tosca is really not morning music. Cavaradossi knows he is about die and in this aria, naturally enough I think, reflects on how much he loves Floria, and on how cruel it is to die when life is so sweet.

This man, Jonas Kaufmann, is special. A glorious voice and a musician: a very rare combination, especially in a world where music has become an ‘industry’. Sadly he has the misfortune to have to sing with some of the flabbiest divas ever to have existed on this earth, but somehow manages to encourage them to raise their game, albeit briefly.

By the way, please forgive the French oboe player for his desperately sentimental ornament. I think he got a bit a carried away.

Sunday Morning Music

I watched a rather poor BBC documentary last night about the incomparable Maestro Mstislav Rostropovitch. Fortunately his consummate artistry could not be dimmed by the flabby and dull film-making. Here he is in a recording from the early 90s. Old Bach’s fifth cello suite: the Prelude.

A Very English Virtuoso

I know, I’ve already posted today, but for once I am throwing caution to the wind… and rain and damp and generally crappy weather that Berlin is enduring this summer. No wonder I spend so much time chained to my computer.

Anyway… the so-called classical music ‘industry’ these days leaves me a bit cold. Too many technicians, too few musicians. Which makes Benjamin Grosvenor something of a miracle. He is an Englishman and an ‘old school’ piano player who produces the most delicious sound I think I have ever heard from a piano. Forget Lang Lang, et al, think Horowitz and Richter; Ben is the real deal.

Sadly, the Chopin Nocturne available on YouTube is one I’m not fond of, so instead I decided to post this unashamedly virtuosic showpiece from the first Prom of the year because it’s such fun, and some Liszt. But seek out his Chopin, you won’t regret it. (By the way, he’s 19.)

God’s Music

In response to the Johann Sebastien post, Trish wrote that someone once said, when God plays music for his angels he plays Bach; but when he plays music for himself, it’s Brahms. Thank you Trish. Somehow your quotation reminded me of poxy St. Augustine, although on reflection, the only connection is that St. Augustine believed in God. Anyway, my beef with St Augustine is two-fold. Not only does he bear sole responsibility for the invention of original sin, but he was also very confused about the point of music and actually believed it to be dangerous to a fragile Catholic soul!

“I waver,” he wrote, “between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those time I would prefer not to hear the singer.”

What to do with such a saint? Thomas Beecham, who could never even remotely be described as ‘saintly’, had a far healthier view. “The function of music,” said Sir Thomas, whose life was jam-packed with music making, “Is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” Bravo, Tom! Boo, hiss, St. A.!

But surely even this venerable saint would not object to being moved by both words and music. For example in the miraculous Agnus Dei by Benjamin Britten from his devastingly beautiful War Requiem. The singer is Ben’s life-long friend, Peter Pears. The English words by Wilfred Owen. And I’m sure God plays this one for himself.

Johann Sebastien

Old man Bach, born into a family of professional musicians and dead at the age of 65 after an English quack operated unsuccessfully on one of his  eyes. There were generation upon generation of Bachs, it seems, although unlike Johann Sebastien, few are remembered today. I learned recently that he was the fifteenth member of his family to be christened Johann, and that no less than four of his brothers were also Johanns. Perhaps his father was too busy making music to come up with something more original, but whatever the reason, five Johanns’ in the family suggests a monumental lack of imagination. My guess is that for the Bachs the important thing was to perpetuate family names. But it is only a guess.

If I were only allowed to listen to one composer for the rest of the my life I think it would have to be Johann Sebastien, in spite of the spiritual risk I’d be taking. Bach makes the God of Luther quite real for me. So much so that I, too, want to cry out to him to “Have mercy!” Especially now.

I should probably apologize in advance to any Baroque purists out there for this particular version of “Ebarme dich”. It’s sumptuous and romantic and Klemperer-slow, and therefore a long way from contemporary notions that shape today’s ‘Alte Musik’. But it works for me. Such unbearably glorious, wretched, tender music. I simply can’t resist it.

The Kerry Recruit

Yesterday evening I accompanied Andreas to the Irish Times on Leipziger Straße for an evening of traditional Irish music. Andreas, who sings at home quite a lot (although mostly in the shower; he runs a bath in which to wash, then jumps into the shower to sing), has initiated a ‘session’ on Sunday evenings and this was to be the second musical gathering. (The next will be in two weeks time, for any Berliners who are interested.)

After a few instrumental numbers, Andreas took his turn and I must say he sang rather well. It was the first time I’d ever heard him sing when he wasn’t soaking wet, and the best thing about the lack of bathroom sound effects was that I was able to capture the performance of one his favourite songs on video. Unfortunately, now it’s on YouTube the picture is a bit on the dark side, but the music, the important bit, has retained its lustre.