30 November 2012

A new, cute and immensely popular Bruckner-Ikonographie in Japan

The six composers in the new pins series designed by Kazuo Ozawa and issued by Bookunion in Japan

The popularity of Anton Bruckner among classical music fans in Japan has never been in doubt, but how immensely popular it is is sometimes out of everyone's expectation. The six pins shown above are to be issued on 1 December 2012, but pre-orders for the Bruckner pin are in so overwhelming amount that this item had to be de-listed soon after it appeared on HMV Japan's online shop. However, all the other 5 pins are still available at the time of writing. If we assume that all the six different pins are issued in the same quantity, then Bruckner appears to be more popular than Beethoven or Mahler here. And if we speak of the 3 B's, traditionally referring to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, this pins series has taken the position to replace Brahms with Bruckner. This may only be a tongue-in-cheek explanation. The official introduction has given the reasons for the choice of composers: 3 "kings of composers", namely Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and 3 "modern" composers popular in Japan, namely Bruckner, Mahler and Shostakovich.

These are small nickel plated pins measuring H26 X W13-16mm and 0.7mm thick. The listed price is 630 Yen (tax included). The designer/illustrator is the famous cartoonist on classical music in Japan, Kazuo Ozawa (小澤一雄). 

22 November 2012

China Philharmonic Orchestra played Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 -- video streaming

Bruckner's symphonies have seldom been played by orchestras in China except perhaps recently. It'd thus be interesting to have an opportunity to view such a concert. By sifting through the China Central Television's (CCTV) web-based CCTV Concert Hall archive, I managed to find a complete Bruckner concert on video streaming. It is a concert of the China Philharmonic Orchestra (中国爱乐乐团 ) conducted by Okko Kamu on 13/3/2009 performing Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. This concert has a special significance to this orchestra: it was its first Bruckner concert ever since it was formed in May 2000 in Beijing.
Here is the link.

P.S. In the CCTV archive, there are also video clips of Daniel Harding's Beijing concert on 9/3/2012 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on Bruckner's Fifth. Only the last 3 movements are included: Adagio (excerpt), Scherzo (complete) and Finale (excerpt). But beware, these excerpts are preceded by advertisements.

20 November 2012

A series that took 10 years to complete -- Anthology of the RCO

In September, a blog entry was made introducing Volume 7, the last, of the Anthology of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra series.  Now it has arrived and joined its 6 predecessors in the series. Ten years have elapsed since the release of the first volume, issued by Q-Disc (the RCO Live label has not been founded before 2004), in 2002. All through these years, many wonderful live recordings in this series have given me so much pleasure that I was always on the lookout for the next release.

At first sight, it all looks nothing special: an old orchestra issuing some recordings from its archive. But when we realise that the music, conductors and soloists were carefully chosen to represent the legacy of a great orchestra and a tradition of sound which not everyone is fortunate or old enough to experience in person, we will come to appreciate the significance of these recordings and get to be thankful that this Anthology series does exist.

Here's a picture of the whole family:

Anthology of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Vol. 1-7

(I now realise that the picture of Volume 7 I posted in the previous blog entry is only an old draft from the product information sheet, and the issued product has a different cover art as shown above.)

The Mehta Bruckner 8 is split on 2 CDs with the first 3 movements on CD7 and the Finale on CD8. It was a recording of the concert on 2 December, 2005, and the 1955 Nowak edition was used. Here are the timings: 15'45", 15'18", 28'47", 22'53".

P.S. As there is much interest in knowing the music included in Vol. 7, here is a scan of the track listing printed on the bottom of the box. Please click the picture to enlarge.

18 November 2012

The memorable concerts in Beijing

On 2nd and 3rd November, I attended two concerts in Beijing on consecutive nights. These were the last two concerts in this year's Staatskapelle Dresden Asia tour led by Christian Thielemann. They went to Japan first, then Taiwan and finally Shanghai and Beijing. They didn't come to Hong Kong and so I had to travel to another city for the concerts. The first choice is Taiwan as it is easier to book tickets online, but the only concert there doesn't have Bruckner. So I have to turn to the other 2 cities. They have two concerts each in Shanghai and Beijing, with the same programmes, both featuring Bruckner's Seventh on the first night. Shanghai is a little closer to Hong Kong but the dates of the concerts clashes with some of our local important engagements, and so the only choice is Beijing. Tickets can be booked online in both Shanghai and Beijing, but they cater only for local residents as non-domestic credit cards, e.g. Visa, MasterCard, etc., are not accepted. Here I have to thank my friends in Hong Kong who have close connections in Shanghai and Beijing for booking the tickets for me. Without their generous help I wouldn't have had the chance to attend these memorable concerts.

Thielemann left Munich and took the helm of the Staatskapelle Dresden in 2012, much to the disappointment of the Munich audience. His live recording of Bruckner 8 with this orchestra in September 2009 (Profil SACD PH10031) is one of my favourites. Seasoned classical music lovers are well aware of his influence in the German classical music scene these days, although his interpretations can be subject to controversy sometimes.

Wangfujing, Beijing

Snow everywhere in the morning of 4th November

The concerts took place in the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) (国家大剧院), an ellipsoid building of titanium and glass surrounded by an artificial lake. Tiananmen Square is its neighbour to the east. The following picture was taken just before the concert.

NCPA entrance

The programmes are:

2 Nov
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E major

3 Nov
Wagner: Overture to Tannhauser
               Prelude and Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde
               Overture to Rienzi
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor

The programmes are typical of Thielemann's strong Austro-German predilection in his repertoire. The two Preludes and Liebestods from Tristan und Isolde were quite different on the two nights: plainly narrative on the first and rather intensely emotional on the second; but the pianissimo passages were simply heart stopping on both. The overture to Rienzi was marvellous, a veritable aural feast. The Bruckner was one of the best Bruckner concerts I've ever attended. It's almost a transcendental experience. Rubato was nicely integrated into the music without leaving an impression of cutting in. Thielemann took a longer than notated pause between each thematic groups in the exposition of the Finale, and this gave extra weight to this Finale which has been criticised as lacking massiveness. The Brahms however was less satisfying as Thielemann's tempo variations were apparently overdone.

Programme leaflet (free) and book (RMB 10)
Thielemann kissing the lady who presented him with a bouquet of flowers
A confident maestro

10 November 2012

The wait is almost over -- Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin Bruckner 4-7 on DVD

In June last year, I blogged the video streaming on ARTE Live Web of Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin's concerts of Bruckner's Symphonies 4-9, and remarked that, "I hope Accentus Music will issue this June 2010 partial cycle on DVD or Blu-ray, but when I emailed them their answer was that they didn't know if and when it would be released. Another wait." Now the wait is almost over. Accentus Music has just decided to issue this series of performances on DVD and Blu-ray, starting from Symphony No. 4 in January 2013. (Japanese release may be earlier, at the end of December 2012). Those of us who have watched the video streaming will be looking forward to the release of these excellent Bruckner concerts.

While on Barenboim, mention should be made that next Thursday (15th November) will see his 70th birthday. Accentus Music, in cooperation with ZDF and ARTE, will celebrate his birthday with a two-part documentary and a live concert broadcast on ARTE of his "birthday concert" with the Staatskapelle Berlin. This link will give details of these events.

08 November 2012

Following the trail of Anton Bruckner in Austria (4) -- Ansfelden (II) 1837

Bruckner's happy days in Hörsching were cut short when he was summoned back to Ansfelden by the end of 1836 because his father was ill. He had to relieve some of his father's duties. A happy ending it was not to be. His father died on 7 June 1837 at the age of 46, reportedly of consumption. 

The grave of Bruckner's father

The young Bruckner, not yet 13 at the time, had to begin a new phase in his life, separated from his beloved mother, in St. Florian, a place to be endlessly interwoven with him on earth and in heaven.