SAARIAHO: L'amour de Loin
"Karl Amadeus Hartmann and the String Quartet"
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58. Piano Concerto
No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor."
L'amour de Loin (Love from Afar) is the first opera by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952). It is based on the love story of the medieval troubadour Jaufré Rudel who learns froma pilgrim that the love of his imagination actually exists in Outremer and sets out to find her. He becomes ill on the boat journey and after finally meeting her he died. There are only the three characters, and one might wonder how such a simple story could take two hours for performance. But the score, inspired by Messiaen's Saint Francis d'Assise, is magical, rich and delicate, often reminiscent of Ravel and Debussy. The opera was a sensation when it was premiered at 2000 Salzburg Festival; the U. S. premiere was in Santa Fe in 2002. This performance was recorded in Berlin's Teldex studios in March 2006 and in Munich's Bavaria Musik-Studio in October 2008. The performance is magnificent, and the surround sound luxurious enough to perfectly convey the many-textured score. A complete libretto is provided. A quality issue!
Cybele's prime focus is on contemporary music, and many of their previous releases have been mentioned on this site. Their new 3-disk SACD set devoted to composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann is commendable, if puzzling. Hartmann was born in Munich in 1905, died there in 1963 and was considered by many to be the greatest German symphonist of the 20th century. He championed the new era of German composers. In spite of his anti-fascist views he was able to maintain his leadership position and after the war was able to play a major role in rebuilding German cultural life. His works include 6 operas, 9 symphonies, concertos, vocal works and chamber music. This new release features Hartmann's complete works with string quartet. Performances are perhaps definitive, audio is superb. The puzzling element is that much of the content of these SACDs is documentary, and hardly requires the SACD format (and price!). Included are the following: a 21-minute conversation between Ulrich Dibelius and the composer's wife, Elisabeth Hartmann recorded in 1994; a 34-minute episode (recorded in 1962) with the composer discussing his life, music and Arnold Schonberg; and a lengthy (41:36) interview between Mirjam Wiesemann and the composer's son, Dr. Richard P. Hartmann recorded earlier this year. All of these are in German, and no translations are provided—even on the Cybele site (www.cybele.de).
I haven't heard Olli Mustonen's previously issued recordings of Beethoven's first three concertos and the piano version of the violin concerto, but after hearing this disk of the last two concertos I surely would like to hear them. The distinguished Swedish pianist has an impressive career and has appeared with most major orchestras as soloist. He also is a conductor and in 2003 was appointed conductor of the Tapiola Sinfonietta, which he leads on this recording. Mustonen's view of Beethoven is fresh and invigorating, and highly individual with imaginative phrasing. These are commanding interpertretations, and although Mustonen leads from the keyboard, the accompaniment is cohesive. Excellent sonics are another plus. Check this one out!
R.E.B. (December 2009)