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Beethoven: Cantata On The Death Of Emperor Joseph Ii; Symphony No. 2

Beethoven / Matthews / Mumford / Banks / Thomas
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  San Francisco Symphony   Catalog #: 58   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Sally MatthewsTamara MumfordBarry BanksAndrew Foster-Williams
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony OrchestraSan Francisco Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEESON Lizzie Borden Anton Coppola, cond; Brenda Lewis ( Lizzie ); Anne Elgar ( Margret ); Ellen Faull ( Abigail ); Herbert Beattie ( Andrew ); Richard Fredricks ( Captain Jason MacFarlane ); St. Gabriel Boys Ch; Cambridge Festival O VAI 4563, black and Read more white (DVD: 112:00)

The (much-lamented) New York City Opera gave the premiere of Lizzie Borden on March 25, 1965; Desto recorded the original production (now on CRI 694), and in December WNET imported cast and conductor, but not orchestra and chorus, to Boston to make this TV film, which was broadcast in 1967. All the attention was because this is exciting stuff. Jack Beeson’s music seldom pleased the avant garde in his time, but he had an extraordinary ability to turn a good story into a dramatic opera, fleshing out characters and realizing their interactions. This is his most dramatic opera, if not his most melodic. A taut, potent Overture comes as close as Beeson ever would to atonality; it is hinted at in Lizzie’s extended mad scene and reprised in an act III Interlude after the deeds have been done.

The opera’s full title is Lizzie Borden: A Family Portrait , and what a family it is! The tale is too well known to need rehashing. In the opera as in real life, Lizzie is acquitted of the murders but lives on as an outcast, cleared in court but not in the public mind. Brenda Lewis is a potent Lizzie, with a convincing mad scene. Anne Elgar chirps prettily as the younger sister. Abigail. Their conniving, self-centered stepmother is a villainess of the piece, but Ellen Faull sings so beautifully that it’s hard to dislike her. Herbert Beattie is frightening as the dominating miser who makes everyone’s life miserable—except Abigail, who can wrap him around her little finger. Richard Fredricks is a solid Captain McFarlane; he and Margret contribute opera’s obligatory love interest, complicated by Lizzie’s secret love for him, and he furthers the plot by having a violent argument with Andrew, the girls’ father. Tensions build inexorably to the great climax (we stay in the parlor as Lizzie races upstairs to do the deed, grabbing an axe along the way). Beeson’s music is harsh and strong, as the story demands, relaxing into melody for the occasional inner monologue and a few ensembles—or when Abigail wants something from her husband.

This video production has its own historical interest. Made in early days of television technology, almost all of it is live, not lip-synched, in a series of first takes. The major exception is Lizzie’s mad scene, in which she is busy thrashing about. A recent talk by Maestro Coppola (all but one of the original cast are still with us) revealed that he was conducting the orchestra downstairs while the singing, acting, and filming was going on upstairs, each following the other via TV. One would never have guessed as much, for the production is seamless. Coppola much prefers this film to the dry Desto recording—one notes that Desto omitted his name from the cover of its LP box.

There has since been another televised NYC Opera production, in 1999, led by George Manahan. It too was a blockbuster, a more “operatic” performance on a semi-abstract stage setting (compared to the realistic house interiors of this VAI video). Abigail is equally well sung, by Lauren Flanagan, whose strong acting makes Abigail vicious instead of just silly. The VAI video is followed by several panels which bring us the historical Borden family and Lizzie’s trial; a photograph shows that both operatic Lizzies closely resemble her. VAI provides English subtitles if desired; the 4:3 black and white picture is clean, the monaural sound clear. We happily watch old films noir in b&w, and this film is as noir as they come; the lack of color suits the story so well that the full-color televised performance seems all wrong.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
Cantata on the death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Sally Matthews (Soprano), Tamara Mumford (Mezzo Soprano), Barry Banks (Tenor),
Andrew Foster-Williams (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra,  San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Bonn, Germany 

Sound Samples

Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: I. Todt, Todt!
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: II. Ein Ungeheuer, sein Name Fanatismus
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: III. Da kam Joseph
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: IV. Da stiegen die Menschen an's Licht
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: V. Er schläft
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: VI. Hier schlummert seinen stillen Frieden
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87: VII. Todt, Todt!
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36: I. Adagio molto-Allegro con brio
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36: II. Larghetto
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36: III. Scherzo (Allegro)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36: IV. Allegro molto

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Rousing Beeethoven December 3, 2013 By Joseph Lieber, MD (Great Neck, NY) See All My Reviews "MTT and the SFS continue to impress in a rarely heard Beethoven work. The Cantata is both mournful and majestice with a superb chorus, soloists and orchestra. the emotions and majesty are there to behold in this beautiful recording. The symphony number 2 comes across with appropriate gusto and build up. The orchestral forces paly beautifully and the interperation is old school (which for me is so nice to hear). Get this especailly to hear the Cantata." Report Abuse
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