Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

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Modernistfan
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Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by Modernistfan » Fri Jul 11, 2014 3:21 pm

Naxos is to release Darius Milhaud's huge choral trilogy "Oresteia of Aeschylus" in September. This was performed by the University of Michigan's orchestra and chorus conducted by Kenneth Kiesler. This will be on 3 CD's. (William Bolcom, who had studied with Milhaud, played a large role in getting this work staged and recorded. You will recall that the University of Michigan's orchestra and chorus recorded Bolcom's own "Songs of Innocence and Experience" for Naxos some years ago.)

piston
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by piston » Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:15 pm

I look forward to obtaining the whole trilogie. Bernstein once recorded Les Choéphores with the NYP and the Schola Cantorum of New York which I have on a Columbia LP. The Oresteia trilogy is the work of a very young Milhaud who was not exactly explicit in his instructions to performers. It's also a work in French, in "high" Claudel French, and that must have been quite a challenge for American singers.
Also, in this piece, unfortunately, Milhaud wrote almost no instructions for the chorus and soloists. There’s hardly ever an articulation mark and they are missing dynamics 90% of the time. So everything has to be done from scratch, beginning with what the words mean, what the scene is about, and what the orchestra’s playing.

Additionally, choirs don’t sing in French every day. There aren’t that many pieces in French in the concert oratorio repertoire. They are usually in Latin, or English, or German. That’s an interesting challenge for the singers as well.
http://www.umslobby.org/index.php/2013/ ... team-12399
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

Modernistfan
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by Modernistfan » Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:30 pm

Yes, this must have been extraordinarily difficult (French is an extremely difficult language to speak idiomatically, much less sing). I have the Bernstein recording of Les Choéphores on CD (issued when Sony was reissuing some of the older Bernstein recordings) and I definitely will buy this one. It is still amazing what Naxos is doing at a time when what is left of the majors are running for cover and either re-re-re-re-recording the same warhorses for the 264th time or slopping out Krossover Krap.

piston
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by piston » Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:39 pm

In a global market with several thousand interested customers, it is still a paying proposition for some labels, such as Naxos or Northern Flowers in Russia, to issue rarely recorded works. God bless them!!
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

piston
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by piston » Sat Jul 12, 2014 5:47 pm

A bit more about the early Milhaud. One of his closest boyhood friends was Leo Latil, son of the family doctor of the Milhaud family. Both of them were "profoundly mystical" even though they did not share the same religion. Leo wrote poetry and Darius composed music. Leo Latil is the person who first introduced Milhaud to the French poets who would inspire him for the rest of his life, including the very Catholic Francis Jammes and Paul Claudel. At the beginning of World War I, both friends were eager to enlist but Darius was exempted because of his serious rheumatic disorders. Leo was killed early in the war....

Other than his first opera, La brebis égarée, op. 4, from which he derived a 4 hand piano reduction, op. 12, Milhaud first composed songs to poems by Jammes and ... Latil and an early piano suite. Agamemnon, the first work in the trilogy, composed for soprano, choir and orchestra in 1913-14, is thus his first large scale work with soloist, choir and orchestra.

Contrary to what is too often written, Milhaud completed The Libation Bearers (Les Choéphores) in 1915, well before he worked as Claudel's secretary at the French embassy in Brazil. However, a portion of this work was premiered in Paris in 1919. It's Milhaud's first polytonal composition, when he made a conscious effort "to examine every possible combination of two keys superimposed and to study the chords thus produced. I also studied the effect of inverting them, I tried every imaginable permutation by varying the mode of the tonalities making up these chords." Both Markevitch and Bernstein previously recorded this work which includes the innovative combination of "spoken choruses with an accompaniment of percussion instruments" for the two sections of the text, Omens and Exhortation, that are so violent as to be called "savage, cannibal" by the composer.

In distinction to Agamemnon and Les Choéphores, typically listed as "incidental music" in the catalogue of his works, the last piece in the trilogy, Les Euménides, written between 1917 and 1923, is listed as an opera, his second opera.

Milhaud's early works were almost all lyrical and programmatic. His first strictly orchestral work was completed in 1917.

Incidentally, Erato has just issued a 10-CD boxed set of his more familiar works simply called Une vie heureuse:
http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Erato/2564634844
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

lennygoran
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jul 13, 2014 9:55 am

Modernistfan wrote:Naxos is to release Darius Milhaud's huge choral trilogy "Oresteia of Aeschylus" in September.
I have this on cd but have never listened to it--think it will ever be done as a full opera production--maybe Bard's Botstein could do it? Regards, Len

PJME
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by PJME » Mon Jul 14, 2014 3:07 pm

This is great news for Milhaud-lovers. l'Orestie is a very difficult work to bring of - very large choral/orchestral forces are needed! It is a tough and long work - not a crowdpleaser.

So, it is no wonder that he complete Orestie has been performed only very rarely . In the archives of Belgian Radio there is a ca 1949-50 recording with Franz André (with a mix, I think of mostly Belgian and French soloists) ,I witnessed a spectacular performance in Amsterdam (june 25th 1988) , Reinbert de Leeuw conducting the Dutch Radio PhO & Chorus ,( + Clytemnestre,June Card (sopraan), Electre, Le Spectre, Viorica Cortez (mezzo),Oreste,Charles van Tassel (baritone),La Pythie,María Orán (sopraan), Apollon,François Le Roux,La Statue, Claron McFadden (sopraan),mezzo-sopraan, Nelly Boschkova and Ans van Dam). It made a huge impression. On leaving the Concertgebouw I ran ...into a huge crowd : the Dutch soccer team had won the European Champions cup . It seemed as if the procession of the people of Athens merged seamlesly into a real manifestation... An unforgettable experience.
There is propably a recording from French -ORTF -times, Heinrich Hollreiser conducted a staged version in Berlin ( Catherine Gayer, Vera Little, Patricia Johnson, Ruth Hesse, Dooley, Ernst Krukowski, Thomas Stewart). Die Zeit wrote in 1963: Er ist so schwer zu singen wie auszuhalten!!

The ca 1928/1929 recording of fragments of l' Orestie ( Lodewijk De Vocht / Claire Croiza / Antwerp chorus & orchestra) sounds atrocious and has only historical importance - even if Croiza is quite impressive!

http://youtu.be/cEk0W0C2uJQ


The following text I took from Amazon:

Milhaud's Les Choéphores op. 24 (The Libation Bearers) is a strange work. Written between 1913 and 1915, it is Part II of a trilogy on the Agamemnon-Electra-Orestes story, framed by Agamemnon op. 14 (1913-1914) and Les Euménides op. 41 (whose composition was begun in 1917 and completed only in 1924). Agamemnon and Les Choéphores are in fact the incidental music ("musique de scène") for the plays adapted by the famous French poet and playwright Paul Claudel from the two first tragedies of Aeschylus' Oresteia, while Les Euménides is a fully-fledged, three-act opera. Les Choéphores deals with the Electra story, the same episode put to music by Strauss. Milhaud was a young composer of 21 when he began work in 1913, but his typical style is fully there already, the vocal writing very declamatory and closely modeled after the rhythm of the spoken language but with some occasional twists, the bizarre and grating polytonal harmonies. The incidental music of Les Choéphores starts with a "funeral vociferation" (translated here by "lamentation", which waters down the original meaning), and the words are pretty dramatic ("On my cheek the crimson glow / Doth shine, that hands have printed fresh / With furrowing nails on tender flesh") but with Milhaud it sounds like a hymn of joy. Masochist libation bearers maybe. Jest apart, the music is interesting here at least for this unsentimental approach, this very contradiction between words and music. Still, Milhaud certainly doesn't appear in Les Choéphores as a natural-born melodist, although, getting used to the composer's particular style, at least you recognize familiar Milhaud, to the hilt. But Choéphores does stand out for its moments of fine lamenting pathos (track 2 "Libation", soprano over wordless chorus) and for its powerful incantations (track 3). But above all, Les Choéphores features three extraordinary passages of powerful and violent Sprechgesang (spoken, rhythmically notated) over percussion accompaniment and chorus singing onomatopeia, and at times even blowing whistles (track 4 "Présages" / "Omens", 5 "Exhortation" and the short "Conclusion", track 7). This is Carl Orff (and Orff's Antigonae especially comes to mind, see my review of Orff: Antigonae) decades before Carl Orff "invented" (or copied from Milhaud?) the typical Carl Orff style, and really here Milhaud is decades ahead of his time.

For reasons unknown to me (but which might have had to do with this very radicalism), there elapsed a long period of time between composition and premiere performance of each part of the trilogy: almost fifteen years for Agamemnon, premiered in 1927 (with the Straram Orchestra under its founder Walter Straram). Only excerpts of Choéphores were played in 1919 under Felix Delgrange, and the first staged performance happened in Brussels in 1935. Only the finale of Euménides was performed in 1928 under Louis de Vocht, the first complete performance took place only in 1949 in Brussels under Franz André. The first stage performance of the complete trilogy took place at the Berlin Deutsche Oper in April 1963 under Heinrich Hollreiser. All this information comes from the website of Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Not that Choéphores is a frequent encounter on disc either - in fact, I am aware of only two recordings, this one by Markevitch in 1957 and Bernstein in 1961 (Milhaud: Les Choéphores / Honegger: Symphony No. 5 / Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane), and thereafter everybody apparently considered that the deed had been done and enough tribute had been paid to Milhaud's composition - but at least it has been recorded; never so with the two other pendants of the trilogy. I heard the complete cycle once on the French radio (I probably have a tape of it somewhere in my cellar, surely demagnetized by now), and the two others didn't sound stylistically inferior or even different from Les Choéphores. It'd be nice if someone completed the task and recorded the complete cycle. Hello, Timpani, anybody listening?

Markevitch conducts with consumate style and a fine group of singers (Swiss baritone Heinz Rehfuss sings with perfect French accent, and traces of strain in the upper registers), if stylistically smacking of a bygone era of French opera and declamation, and speaker Claude Nollier (that's a she) acquits herself magnificently, with great dramatic impact, of the Sprechgesang passages. But whatever its merits, Markevitch's version suffers from its antiquated mono sonics (RCA and even EMI recorded in stereo since 1955, but not DG apparently) that lack impact and let many orchestral details blurred and inaudible (especially lamentable with the percussion accompanniment in the Sprechgesang movements), and makes the chorus close to inintellegible if you are not following with the printed text. Bernstein's American chorus, singers and speaker may not have as perfect a French accent as Markevitch forces, but, for Americans, their French accents are fine enough (except for McHenry Boatwright singing Orestes) and only French-fluently-speaking listeners will perceive and may be bothered by the americanisms; Bernstein conducts a fine performance also, if not as taut and urgent and biting as Markevitch's, and his cast of singers may not be as good as Markevitch's (Irene Jordan sounds like a powerful dramatic soprano but her bottom range is very chesty, and so is contralto Virginia Babikian, and Boatwright has a big and firm voice, but none of the nobility of Rehfuss), but it is really Bernstein's 1961 Columbia sonics that make a world of difference, between a vivid sonic experience and a mere document. However, one asset of Markevitch's-DG's edition over Sony-Bernstein's is that it provides the much-needed original text with English translation - Sony only offers a synopsis, which in the case of this very peculiar composition is as good as nothing. And if you find Lewis Campbell's English somewhat pompous, don't worry - it is only being faithful to the style of Claudel. The translation is not always entirely accurate, but Claudel's very peculiar poetic style, a mixture of the highfalutin and the prosaic, is close to untranslatable, and Campbell provides a close enough idea.

Honeggger's 5th Symphony was the generous filler of Markevitch's Choéphores on the original LP (reproduction of cover photo provided). It's a fine performance, very close in spirit and interpretive choices to Munch's pionerring 1953 recording with the BSO in the first two movements (Milhaud: La Creation du monde Op. 81; Suite Provencale: Honegger: Symphonies No. 2 & 5) and even slightly more urgent than him in the Finale, but hampered again by sonics that let some important instrumental details get burried in the first movement (like the ominous trumpets in the build-up to movement's climax, from 3:26 onwards), and deprives the grim and aggressive music of the Finale of much impact. Munch has much more clarity, transparency and impact. In fact compared to RCA's transfer for Munch, DG's sonics sound like they date from 1953 and those of Munch from 1957.

I cannot add much to this clear description. I look forward to the Naxos recording ... with trepidation and fear!

A couple of years ago Jean -Claude Casadesus did Les Choéphores in Lille with Nicole Garcia as reciter.

See You tube:

http://youtu.be/YJVE4IbpumQ (French only)

http://youtu.be/PvWSKasx6kc (French only)

http://youtu.be/PFiUeHiUWSo (French only)



P.
Last edited by PJME on Tue Jul 15, 2014 6:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

piston
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Re: Naxos to Release Milhaud's "Oresteia of Aeschylus"

Post by piston » Mon Jul 14, 2014 3:21 pm

If Sony only offered a synopsis for the 1961 Bernstein recording reissued on CD, the original Columbia LP comes with an insert of the whole text in French and in an English translation by David Johnson.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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