Category Archives: Classical Music

Work is over

Advent 4 – Sunday

So my work year is finally over. I’m glad it is. On the other hand, I have precious little idea of what I am to do for the next three weeks that I have off.

I’m thinking cleaning up my room and clearing out the unworn and ill-fitting clothes from my wardrobe is a priority.

Burning a few candles in here is also in order too. Will be interesting to see how the Kosta Boda “Snowball” votive that A got me for Christmas will go. Along with the Orrefors “Discus” votive holder that I picked up for cheap too (A$85 marked down to A$29.95). And I am wanting to try out the Georg Jensen oil lamp I have too. Given the current rainy weather here in Queensland, maybe now is the right time.

Having the relatives over for Christmas day lunch will be interesting also. I wonder how I will pull up in the morning after going for midnight mass on the Friday night for the first Eucharist of Christmas. Maybe these next few days will be a good chance to catch up on sleep then.

I’m feeling quite stuffed from food though. First Zef’s 30th celebrations on Friday night. Today, the Young Adult Group Christmas party. Blech, I’m watching how much I eat the rest of this week. (Oh goody, we have Kettle Chips in salt & vinegar flavor…)

Calling rellies has been interesting yet annoying. It has been good catching up on them. But always that question rears its ugly head: “So, got girlfriend yet or not?”

While I’d like to be in a relationship now, my chances are slim-to-none. If you had to put money on me finding a girlfriend in 2011, I’d be betting on me not finding one (yet again). Sure, they’re crappy odds, but you’d be virtually guaranteed to win some money. To borrow a line of thinking espoused by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, I think I’m just born in the wrong year to find someone.

Despite those photos that Jacky took at Zef’s 30th party in which I was described as “hawt”, that does not mean squat. So I’ll enjoy my Quasimodo existence again this Christmas and New Years break and I wish a blessed Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2011 to one and all. I fully expect you all to have exceeding amounts happiness in your life than I have in my own.

I’m thinking about posting up some acapella Christmas carols as well later this week. In various languages. I’ve been listening to a lot of Swedish and Norwegian carols this year.

On a carols note, tonight’s 9 Lessons & Carols service at St. John’s Cathedral was beautiful. The Vox Pacifica Chamber Choir was in fine form. Highlights of the evening were:

  • Pärt’s “Bogoroditse Djevo” (O Virgin Theotokos) – an item that I have a particular attachment to given that my devotion to Our Lady has somewhat increased over the last couple of years and that Arvo Pärt is one of my favorite choral composers,
  • David Willcocks’ “Hugh! My dear, lie still and slumber”,
  • “On Christmas night all Christians sing” (arr. David Willcocks),
  • R. Vaughan Williams’ “This Is The Truth”,
  • the English version of the Welsh lullaby “Suo Gan” (arr. George Guest), and
  • “Ding Dong ! Merrily on high” by Charles Wood.

The Pärt song was THE highlight of my night. So given y’all weren’t there, you can watch this recording of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge instead.

2200hrs

Good Friday 2009

Good Friday – Day 1 of the Paschal Triduum

[ now playing? ] J.S. Bach “St. John’s Passion” – Edward Higginbottom, The Choir of New College Oxford & Collegium Novum (Naxos 8.557296-97)

It’s Good Friday today. Well it is if you are a Western Christian. Our Eastern Orthodox brethren have “Holy & Great Friday” next week courtesy to a difference in the date courtesy of the use of the Julian Calendar.

This week has been one of the toughest in the last few years. As I wrote earlier on in the week, there has been a significant amount of self-loathing and self-hatred bubbling inside of me. It’s affected my week a lot. But I have been finding that participating in various church services has helped out somewhat with restoring that equilibrium that was fully shaken up last Sunday (after it had been festering inside for a number of weeks).

Continue reading Good Friday 2009

Miserere mei, Deus

Lent 1 – Tuesday

[ now playing? ] Portishead – Roseland NYC Live

During Lent there are a couple of compositions I listen to a lot.

The first is Sir John Stainer’s The Crucifixion. There is something to be said about the hymn “Cross of Jesus” that is found within this oratorio piece. I’m particularly a big fan of the Naxos release of this oratorio. First, it’s cheap and secondly, it’s recorded beautifully with the choir and soloists having enough room to shine in the atmospheric recording.

The second however is one that is quite associated with the service for Ash Wednesday when the text it uses is normally used as the Responsorial Psalm.

I’m talking about Allegri’s setting of Psalm 50 (or 51 in the Hebrew numbering), the Miserere mei, Deus. This psalm always resounds with me but the ethereal choral setting of it is sublime. 

I don’t care if it’s in Latin or in Coverdale’s English translation as found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This is one psalm I never tire of hearing, both the text and the way it is sung. Recommended recordings?

OK, these are effectively the two “standards”. I have other recordings which are also quite good, but these two will always standout in my mind for I was enthralled by these two recordings in my first sit-down listen of this wonderful choral work.

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.
Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut iustificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum iudicaris.
Ecce enim in inquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.
Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.
Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.
Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.
Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea iustitiam tuam.
Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.
Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.
Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.
Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.
Tunc acceptabis sacrificium iustitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness: according to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.

Now, back to prepping for Young Adults Group Bible Study this Friday night.

+ bf 2038hrs

Turandot

Ordinary Time 29/Trinity 22 – Friday

[ now playing? ] Final Fantasy XII 4CD OST | “Song of Storm and Fire” – Yuki Kajura (performed by Eminence Symphony Orchestra members) | “Two of Us” – Joe Hisaishi (performed by Eminence Symphony Orchestra members) | “Evangelion: Thanatos” – Eminence Symphony Orchestra | “Moon Over The Castle ~Orchestral Version~” – Masahiro Andoh (Gran Turismo 4 Theme)

Opera Queensland did quite a good job I have to say with the penultimate opera of their 2008 season: Puccini’s Turandot. And yes, I was there last night at QPAC for the 30 Below night. Packed crowd down in the stalls. I was in seat K21 (last time I checked that’s either Deluxe or A Reserve seating) and man, all around me, I saw people, more people and nary an empty seat in the Lyric Theatre at all.

Maestro Peter Robinson and the Queensland Orchestra shone for the entire performance. As the opening bars of Act 1 began, I knew that it was going to be one helluva night from them. Magical.

The set and costumes for the entire night were sublime (full credit to the production team). I have a feeling that a number of women in the audience loved the buff men who were the crack execution team. While walking back to the car afterwards, I heard a number of middle-aged women loving how “Manpower were on stage tonight!” Had to chuckle at that.

The only slight downer on the night for me was Ukranian tenor Marian Talaba. While having a fairly commanding stage presence as Calaf, his voice seemed incredibly weak at first. I was hoping it was simply early in the act softness and that he would open up a bit more as the night went on. Sadly, I found that wasn’t the case. At some points, all you heard when all parts on stage were singing was everyone else bar him. Having said that, in spite of his rather soft volume, he didn’t murder the role of Calaf (including the most well-known aria in opera courtesy of Maestro Pavarotti, “Nessun dorma”). So he still gets an overall thumbs up from me.

The three bozos Ping, Pang & Pong (played respectively by Lucas de Jong, Virgilio Marino & Bernard Hull) were very, very well sung (at least by my standards, and no I don’t have La Scala standards here – I’m not exactly that much of an opera purist). Their trio segment at the beginning of Act 2 was wistful and laughable at times to me. Bunch of 3 old farts lamenting their life now compared to if they were back in their homelands… =P

Cynthia Makris carried the ice-princess role of Turandot exceedingly well and very convincingly. Very, very commanding on stage (and the iciness shattered perfectly at the end of Act 3). You would not want to piss off someone like her Turandot in real-life. Gennadi Dubinsky I loved in OQ’s production of The Magic Flute earlier this year when he was Sarastro and in Turandot, his characterization of the blind Timur was superb on stage (one couldn’t help feeling pity for him, the ex-King of Tartary). Couldn’t ask for much better than Kenneth Collins as the Emperor (I’d have been mighty scared of the height off the stage that he was at).

But hands down, my favorite character in Turandot still remains to be Liù. And Hye Seoung Kwon deserved every bit of the loud ovation she received (and we in the audience gave freely) at the end of the night. She was ever the tragic and smitten slave girl of Timur while Calaf was a right bastard in giving her up for Turandot. Liù’s nobility in love to the point of killing herself so that Calaf won’t have to die by Turandot’s hand was executed with passion, conviction and self-identification by Hye Seoung Kwon to my eyes and ears. I’m curious to see how she will go playing Pamina in The Magic Flute in the 2009 Opera Australia season. Unfortunately, I won’t be in Sydney to watch it live. Dammit!

What does this mean for me re: the 2009 season? I’m damn well renewing my 30 Below subscription, that’s what it means. The A$133 I spent for the 3-opera season this year has got to be some of the best money I’ve spent on entertainment ever (much much better than a night out at the movies!). La traviata, Fidelio and Rigoletto are on next year and all three are in my list of opera favorites (especially Traviata). Fidelio should be rather good (in German to boot too, not an English version like this year’s The Magic Flute was of Die Zauberflote) – I enjoy the recording I have here at home so hopefully the live production will live up to my (somewhat meagre) expectations.

+ Pax,
bf 2235hrs

Bzzzzz…. *slap*

2nd Friday after Epiphany
Feast Day remembering the Confession of St. Peter

[ now playing? ] Wagner: Parsifal – Placido Domingo, Waltraud Meier, Wolfgang Bankl, Franz-Josef Selig, Falk Struckmann, Choir & Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera (conducted by Christian Thielemann) [2006 Deutsche Grammophon, 4CD, 00289 477 6006, Live Recording]

It’s very still tonight. And the ever present sound of mosquitos surrounded me before while I was outside hanging up the clothes. I’ve got bites all over me at the moment. Not fun at all.

It’s been a week and a half since I last blogged. Not much has changed since then really.

Had rellies drop by our place last Saturday on their way back to Melbourne from Malaysia. They flew in to Coolangatta Airport direct from KL on an AirAsia X flight. Was good to catch up with “Uncle” Sunny & “Aunty” Karen again. The last time I saw them was back in Melbourne around 1991 or 1992. And the realization that I shouldn’t actually call them “uncle” and “aunty” given that generationally speaking, they’re the same as me. Meaning that we’re cousins. And their two beautiful daughters, Laurel at 17, going on 18 and Sheryl at 15 going on 16 are my nieces and I’m their uncle. Meaning that my parents are their granduncle & grandaunt and uncle and aunty to Sunny ko-ko (‘brother’ in Hokkien) and Karen chi-chi (‘sister’ in Hokkien). Funny how most of my female relatives are much better looking than I am while I still look like a bit of a primate (and not in the ecclesiastical sense). Hehe…

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Been listening to a lot of Italian ‘Neapolitan’ songs of late. Because I have Italian blood in me obviously.

Not.

That plus some zarzuela too. Again, because I have some Spanish blood in me also. Not. BTW, zarzuela is Spain’s answer to opera if you didn’t already know.

My voice has somewhat improved since getting back from Malaysia when I was still sick like anything. I fear that back there, having to talk to plenty of people at the reunion while having throat soreness might have affected my vocal range. Hitting top notes these days isn’t as easy as it was last year. Then again, I haven’t really been sleeping too well of late so that probably doesn’t help matters either. My breath control has been slacking also (and the longer I hold a note, the greater the chance of me coughing like mad because my throat is still a little bit twitchy). Choir practice tomorrow afternoon will be interesting…

Apart from that, been listening to a lot more opera and classical music of late. Somehow, I’m finding that contemporary stuff (i.e. what you hear on the radio, including contemporary christian/worship music) is becoming quite banal. Jazz is also making further inroads into my playlist also. And a lot of opera and classical music is helping to ease my voice back into singing mode.

“No puede ser (It Cannot Be)” from the zarzuela La tabernera del puerto (‘The Port Tavern Keeper’) is one that I’m enjoying singing along to a helluva lot. Rossini’s “La danza (The Dance)” from Semiramide is also great fun too. “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (You are my Heart’s delight)” from Franz Lehar’s operetta Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) is testing my recollection of how to pronounce German from my primary school days. And another one of my favorite duets in the opera repertoire “O soave fanciulla (O lovely girl)” from Puccini’s La boheme is getting a lot of airplay and singing along with to help out with getting my breath control back.

What’s currently playing in my stereo now however is the June 2005 live recording (released in 2006) of Richard Wagner’s last masterpiece, Parsifal. Normally I try to avoid Italian or Spanish singers in German operas but I couldn’t resist Domingo’s voice in this one. He’s come a long, long way from the first time I heard him sing in German on a recording from 1990 (the Three Tenors Rome concert where he sang the above Lehar tenor aria). The German is more than passable now and at 65, his voice is still bloody good. If only I can maintain my voice like his when I get to his age. The recording is sumptuous – though being a live recording, stage noise from props, etc is heard during some of the most gorgeous orchestral movements in it (oh well, such is life). Gonna have to listen to the 1951 Bayreuth recording I have of Hans Knappertsbusch conducting and a killer cast including Wolfgang Windgassen (as Parsifal) and Martha Mödl (as Kundry) to compare.

All I humbly ask God is that this voice of mine gets better so I can enjoy singing along with some of the greatest music the world has ever known with the same fervor that I had before.

And not to mention, to stop the violence in Kenya as well. That’s been going on for too long now after their elections.

In book news, Scot McKnight’s “The Real Mary” was a great read on how the Blessed Virgin should fit in into a evangelical Protestant schema of remembrance. Next on the list, to finish off that book titled “Light From the Christian East” on views (from a Protestant standpoint) of Eastern Orthodoxy and then to Merton’s “The Sign Of Jonas”. And maybe later, his chronicling of the Cistercian order in “The Waters of Siloe”. The reading will never stop.

Off for compline now and then sleep. I’m beat.

+ Pax,
bf 2215hrs

Not a real blog post…

1st Tuesday after Epiphany

Those of you who have read this blog and who know my music preferences would prolly know who on earth the lass in the video clip below is.

Yes, it’s a vid of Anna Netrebko singing at last year’s BBC Proms. I recently caught her singing this particular piece on a DVD (Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Ramón Vargas, Ludovic Tézier, “The Opera Gala: Live from Baden-Baden”, 2007 Deutsche Grammophon DVD 00440 073 4377).

It wasn’t that great of a performance for what is supposedly the new breed of bel canto singers in the world. Elīna Garanča is great in this. But somehow Ramón Vargas’ tenor just didn’t quite hit the spot for me (compare his interpretation of “Una furtiva lagrima” against Pavarotti’s and you’ll hear what I mean). The same goes for Ludovic Tézier too (he seemed “underutilized” in this concert).

And it most certainly isn’t one of the better performances overall that I’ve heard Ms. Netrebko sing in. Her rendition on the DVD of “Casta Diva” from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma didn’t give me the pleasurable goosebumps on the back of my neck that I’m used to from listening to her Russian Album with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra or her second album on Deutsche Grammonphon, Sempre Libera with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (and this one was filled with Bellini cuts from La sonnambula and I puritani).

But on this DVD, I woke up when I heard “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß (My lips kiss with such fire)” from Franz Lehar’s operetta, Giuditta.

I hadn’t heard this piece, until the weekend just past, since 1997 when we stumbled across it in Grade 9 music class. I have no idea how on earth we got into German romantic operetta during the school term, but I somehow still remembered this melody line, the waltz rhythm and how it made me smile like heck the first time I heard it and read the libretto for the translated lyrics from German into English. It still has that effect on me today when I hear it (and especially when a Giuditta like this is hella gorgeous and sings it oh, so seductively).

But the Baden-Baden rendition was definitely better than the rendition than she gave in concert at Berlin’s ‘Waldbuhne’ during 2006 with Marco Armiliato at the helm of the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin.

This BBC Proms vid (taken from Proms 72 of the 2007 season at the Royal Albert Hall) is full of life and shows how opera and operetta are never boring, but actually quite fun and at times, a wee bit cheeky. 😉

Enjoy folks, including the English translations that come up on the screen if you are as fluent in Deutsche like I am (i.e. not very!)

And for those of you who want to watch the Baden-Baden recital performance of it (and learn how to recover from a stuff-up, mid-aria, quick smart):

Or even the ‘Waldbuhne’ performance (which I’m not that much of a fan of):

However, her ‘Waldbuhne’ performance of “O soave fanciulla” (from Giacomo Puccini’s La boheme) with Rolando Villazón is to die for!

And yes, for the folks from church who get to the end of this blog post, this has not been a proper blogpost courtesy of the above Youtube vids. =P

+ Pax,
bf 2200hrs