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Saturday, February 21, 2009


Classical Notes by William Charlton-Perkins.

As a school boy record-collector and a burgeoning opera buff back in the 1960s, I recall reading about Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in text books as ‘the oldest opera in the repertoire’. That was before the revival of Early and High Baroque masterworks by Italian, French and German composers got underway, with works by Monteverdi, Cavalli, Vivaldi, Rameau, Handel, etc, surfacing in record shops, and on the world’s festival stages.

These days Gluck’s lyric tragedy, based on the classical Greek Orpheus myth, still holds its head up high, though now it has to compete with many works that predate it. Originally set to an Italian libretto for Vienna in 1762, and revised in French for Paris in 1774, the work is often cited as one of the composer’s so-called ‘reform operas’. Here he moved away from the elaborate virtuosic flights of vocal writing with which his predecessors in the High Baroque age had indulged their opera stars. Gluck chose rather to focus on pure, unadorned musical lines and heightened drama. Or so, in a nutshell, one used to read.

Notoriously difficult to stage convincingly, the work will no doubt speak for itself when it is screened from February 20 at Cinema Nouveau movie houses. Taking the leads in this latest addition to the HD Met Opera transmissions are contralto Stephanie Blythe in the ‘castrato’ title role, with Danielle de Niese as his mourned-for wife, Euridice, who inspires the hero to brave the underworld for her sake. James Levine conducts the production, which is directed by Mark Morris.

Getting back to record-collecting, great news came via an email newsletter this week, from the British classical music publication, The Gramophone, the monthly ‘cultural fix’ of thousands of die-heard arm-chair music enthusiasts around the globe. It announced its recently launched Gramophone Archive. Miraculously, as an introductory note explains, this presents a searchable database containing every issue of Gramophone from April 1923 to the latest issue. Despite the complexities of producing a magazine during wartime, Gramophone has never missed an issue.

Every editorial page, and most advert pages, we’re told, have been scanned and digitized, the contents tagged as articles, reviews and advertisements and the text extracted, so that the entire Archive is searchable – by keyword as well as by date. Each page is viewable as a digital image of the original alongside a plain text ‘extraction’ of the words…. Log onto - and be amazed, enlightened, challenged, as you explore critical opinions that for decades have transcended the ‘dummed down’ trends of most other publications in the specialised fields of records and recording, particularly classical music.

On the home front, Durban’s Friends of Music announce the appearance at the Jewish Centre on Tuesday, March 3, of the prize-winning Ukrainian pianist, Alexej Gorlatch. His programme will include Mozart’s Fantasy K 475, Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 101, Chopin’s Polonaise Op 53, Schumann’s Fantasiestueke Opus 12, and Bartok’s Out of Doors Suite. The recital will start at 19h45 as usual, and tickets cost R60 (members), R70 (non-members) and R20 (students/ orchestra members). Book through Computicket. - William Charlton-Perkins