probing conducting, rambling

yes yes, i’m supposed to be typing the Result section 3.1.. but writing time always coincides with music discovery.. and this time, it has been Gluck’s Armide. I’ve been siting through… I think must have been 7 rounds at least of that Riccardo Muti’s live broadcast (with ACA, of course!) , and 3 rounds of Marc Minkowski’s full version in Wien this past October. My preference: Marc Minkowski’s orchestration. Simply because i’m an early music addict and the sound of theorbos strumming will conquer! But in listening to the two conductors in succession, one can’t help but notice the vast difference in the approach and the mood it creates. So, how about an intro to Gluck’s Armide with Armide’s first aria. This one has all the various mood changes (color-coded! and time-tagged.)

Clip1 (time-tag to the moment of the _rush_ in (4) below)

Clip2 (no time-tag, to hear the opening orchestration)

1. an opening of orchestration, which one can only hear clearly in Minkowski’s take,
C1: 00:00:00–00:00:19 , C2: 00:00:00–00:00:21

2. a “grand” entrance of recitative. At this point, I will also point out I think Anna Caterina Antonacci is an exceptional singer, in her accentuation of the words within the musical phrase. I wonder if Gaëlle Arquez, being a native French speaker, might have overlooked how the recitative would sound? Simply listen to the word “Enfin” to start for example, and the first phrase.
C1: 00:00:19–00:01:10 , C2: 00:00:21–00:01:18

Enfin, il est en ma puissance
Ce fatal ennemi, ce superbe vainqueur
Le charme du sommeil le livre à ma vengeance,
Je veux percer son invincible coeur.

Par Lui tous mes Captifs, sont sortis d’esclavage
Qu’il éprouve toute ma rage.

3. a slow burner of recitative
More drooling for fans of recit:
C1: 00:01:11–00:02:53, C2: 00:01:18–00:02:28


Quel trouble me saisit qui me fait hésiter?
Qu’est ce qu’en sa faveur la pitié me veut dire?
Frappons …

qui peut m’arrêter!
Achevons …
je frémis! vengeons-nous …

je soupire?!
Est-ce ainsi que je dois me venger aujourd’hui!
Ma colère s’éteint quand j’approche de lui
Plus je le vois plus ma fureur est vaine
Mon bras tremblant se refuse à ma haine.

4. a VERY FAST mood change, a RUSH, which one hears immediately in Muti’s take along with how Antonacci switches gears (in just a moment of prolongation, then go at “il n’a pu trouver“). In almost a complete contrast, Minkowski created a veeeery quiet orchestra and Arquez making it a very internal conflict moment:
C1: 00:02:53–00:04:37 , C2: 00:02:28–00:04:24

Ah quelle cruauté de lui ravir le jour!
A ce jeune héros tout céde sur la terre.
Qui croiroit qu’il fut né seulement pour la guerre?
Il semble être fait pour l’amour.
Ne puis-je me venger à moins qu’il ne perisse?
Ne me suffit il pas que l’amour le punisse?
Puisqu’il n’a pu trouver mes yeux assez charmans,
Qu’il m’aime au moins par mes enchantemens,
Que s’il se peut, s’il se peut je le haisse.

5. a ramping up to the finale. Again, one hears it more in Muti’s take how quickly it changes. I do love Minkowski’s take of just a slight prolongation of the first note, before the _rush_ and quite more depth in the orchestra, compared to the “drive” forward in Muti.
C1: 00:04:38–end , C2: 00:04:24–end

Venez sécondez mes désirs,
Démons transformez-vous en d’aimables Zéphirs.
Je céde à ce vainqueur, la pitié me surmonte;
Cachez ma foiblesse et ma honte
Dans les plus réculés déserts
Volez, conduisez nous,
Au bout de l’univers

In general, Muti’s take is, i used the word “hurricane” before, you either go with him or he’ll leave you in the dust! ACA gave a comment in one of the interviews i linked 2 posts ago, that she was (am paraphrasing) “very intimidated” by him and how he created this “atmosphere” in the music that she worried she would ruin it all.. In listening to Minkowski, one never has this impression. There’s simply plenty of breathing. But I don’t deny Muti’s take along with Antonacci’s vocal expression, is what actually got me into this opera in the first place. I think you could listen without the libretto and hear all the mood changes. The only thing one misses is the “deeper look in the internal” conflict which Minkowski leaves so much room for. Very nice and interesting :-).


About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

21 Responses to probing conducting, rambling

  1. Anik LaChev says:

    I love it when you have to work 🙂

  2. Anik LaChev says:

    ha! Comments in reader mode are BACK! 🙂 (just testing)

  3. Would you like a 3 rd example for comparism? I can offer Bolton/Gauvin 😉

    • thả diều says:

      i have been listening to Bolton and Gauvin! on repeat! 🙂

    • thả diều says:

      (and i wanted to add Bolton/Gauvin to the comparison for sure, wanted to do last week but i ran out of time, it was so fascinating listening to these conductors and superb singers! I also have a 4th example.. but that one, it was more what i don’t understand…)

      • may I ask which other example you have got? I am also a great Minkovski admirer and not much of a Muti fan. Another reason why the Minkovski version sounds more relaxed without loosing drama and excitemant might be that his band plays in 415 like all baroque specialists, which is half a tone lower than modern tuning.

        • And the WSO is again a special ground. They play at 443, when is hot even 444, poor singers. They had to pay me a special fee, when I played the theorbo there occasionaly, because I needed a set of different strings.

        • thả diều says:

          I was listening to this whole recording (I got to 1/2 way …) I like D. Labelle hence was curious about the broadcast. What bothered me the most is the conducting’s rhythm. At least from a perspective of a listener (that is all I am), the only clear thing i hear is a SQUARE , it’s very rhythmic, bouncy, for no particular reason. It does not have a flow, one knows nothing of the story listening to this.

          The contrast was huge when immediately after I discovered Bolton. I know you mentioned this wayyyy before but it did not register with me 🙂 . so i went searching online and found that it’s still available in full here on radio4.

          To me, i actually like Bolton’s way of conducting the most out of the 3 (Muti, Minkowski, Bolton) .. but his way is very similar to Minkowski’s take in leaving room for expression. But much more clear for me was his way of changing the pace / dynamics such that you feel as if someone is “reading” the story to you and now turning the page to the next scene. There are vivid shapes (arcs) to the way he leads the story, especially/even when accompanying the individual singers to get their lines across.

          Then we come to K. Gauvin, who is *exceptional* at phrasing. She has the ability to “pause” , then increase the dynamics, prolonging moments, zoom in and intensifies the next. I would say she and Bolton formed a formidable team that leads the story the clearest for me.

          I can not say how ACA would have sounded with Minkowski or Bolton, because with Muti, i don’t think anybody has any room to do any expression except to follow his driven orchestra (and yet i find ACA managing greatly there).

          • thả diều says:

            realized i forgot the link to that 4th example with D. Labelle and the square conducting.

            On the singers, i think K. Gauvin’s way of singing really draws me in the most. It was just magic her collaboration with Bolton’s special way (for my ears) of conducting. I’d put ACA up there as well, and would fly in any where she’s singing this role. I have to say i was not as moved by Arquez’s singing but the more i listen the more am warming to her tone and also her way of expressing. As for D. Labelle, i don’t know whether it’s also part of that whole conducting business, but i felt nobody communicated the music well in that entire broadcast — that is if you know the words then you know that’s what they’re singing.. but if you don’t know Glück and/or Armide at all, then it’s just an evening with a lot of French singing…

        • thả diều says:

          But, to come back to Muti, for a beginner to the piece, ME as of 2 weeks ago, I can’t figure out yet whether Muti was the main reason. I’d argue actually ACA was the primary reason I got into this entire opera, from her way of singing in that specialized French heroïne show with François-Xavier Roth. His way of conducting was also very compelling (as well as her singing). As a new listener i felt pulled in with full suspense / tragedy feeling by the end.

          • Excuse my silence after your really interesting and elaborate posts. I had 2 very hard days and since yesterday my beloved cat is ill. I am waiting for the Vet now.
            Anyway, coming back to your posts. What you describe is the old and never ending dilemma of “timing”. Especially in so called “old” music (Including Mozart, even Chopin) because it is almost impossible to write the rhytm as intended and the situation is closer to jazz than to “normal” classical music. There is a very interesting book on the history of Tempo Rubato with the title “stolen time” by Richard Hudson (Clarendon Press – Oxford). I remember a very typical Harnoncourt situation during one of his last recordings (Mozart Album with Lang Lang and the Vienna Phil) when he really got mad at the sound ingeneer, who wanted to repeat a section, because it was not totally “together”. Harnoncourt protested and said he had fought all is life that notes are not equal and do not have to be absolutely together always. And then:” this is Sinatra, its not beautiful if it is not together”. I shall try to produce a “working copy” 😉 BTW it is also available as DVD “Mission Mozart”.

          • thả diều says:

            i’m sorry your cat fell ill, hope things are improving?

            i do like rhythmic takes, but i think there’s a difference between having a reason versus one is not sure what the reason is. It’s sort of like when someone walks with a pace, which is adjustable depending on the surrounding, you never question because it is just part of the dynamics. The contrast is “let us set a pace” and then just move “artificially” at that speed regardless of obstacles / situations. I’m clearly not a musician but at times these conductors gave me the feeling they’d set the metronome and just stay like that, which as a listener you immediately wonder why that is so.

          • dropbox links are on their way

          • thả diều says:

            Thanks Brigitte, i got your link! have not yet a chance to download.. have been fighting the Bering Sea circulation :-), will try today…

          • sorry the Harnoncourt quote should be “” this is Sinatra, its not beautiful if it is together”.

          • thả diều says:

            Brigitte, have you seen this performance with K.Gauvin on 12/April?

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