24 Jun 2016

David Morriss: A Playlist

From In the Spotlight, 11:00 am on 24 June 2016
David Morriss, RNZ Concert presenter.

David Morriss, RNZ Concert presenter. Photo: RNZ

David Morriss, host of Classic Afternoons, describes himself as an obsessive collector of CDs, LPs and 78s.

He is particularly into Baroque music and period-style performance practice; studying singing at both Canterbury University, and in London with the renowned bass David Thomas.

He can still be found singing at various venues around Wellington, when not sitting in the hot seat in the RNZ Concert studio.

How to find out more about David Morriss? We thought the best way would be to ask him for a playlist of his favourite recordings. He checked out his most frequently-played videos on YouTube, and here's what he came back with...

ONE

Joseph Joachim plays the prelude to Bach’s solo Violin Sonata No. 1 in 1903

This is one of my favourite recordings, in spite of the 78rpm noise. (Well, it was recorded 113 years ago!) Joseph Joachim (the same man who was a friend of Brahms and premiered his violin concerto) plays with minimal vibrato, but great warmth.

TWO

'Verdi Prati' from Handel's opera Alcina 

I think this is one of the most remarkable and beautiful moments in all Baroque opera. It's from George Frideric Handel's Alcina, written in 1735.

Ruggiero, a Crusader Knight, has fallen in love with the evil sorceress Alcina. At this point in the opera, her spell is broken and he comes to his senses, and sees that the peaceful, verdant fields of his present existence are nothing but an illusion. This aria comes towards the end of an act, when you’d expect a no-holds-barred showpiece for the singer, but Handel concentrates instead on a wistful nostalgia for pleasures past - the realisation that they’re not real, and that truth lies elsewhere.

A beautiful piece of character development – it’s moments like this that people are thinking of when they mention Handel’s genius for characterisation.

The aria was originally for a castrato, but it’s sung here by tenor Fritz Wunderlich in a radio recording from the late 1950s - where he sang the entire role at sight at the last minute! The period-instrument group Capella Coloniensis is conducted by Ferdinand Leitner.

THREE

Furtwängler conducts Beethoven's Ninth

I think it was Ralph Vaughan Williams who once complained that the “joy” of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the well-known 'Ode to Joy' melody) was akin to that of drinking a pint of beer with a pretty barmaid sitting on your lap. Furtwängler’s vision is rather different, and no more so than in this - the last of his performances of the Ninth to ever be recorded.

The greatest conductor of the 20th Century? Yes, I think so.

FOUR

Richard Strauss: Morgen 

Perfection.

(Soprano Arleen Auger accompanied by pianist Irwin Gage)

FIVE

Delalande: Pie Jesu from Dies Irae 

This music was written in 1690 for the death of Maria Anna Christina Victoria, mother of the future King, Louis XV. Michel-Richard Delalande (French composer, 1657-1726) then revised it after the deaths of his own two daughters.

A wistful, gentle mourning. Grief and despair, yes - but also consolation. It’s a beautiful treatment of a plainchant theme, woven (as the booklet notes say) into a beautiful “web of counterpoint”.

This recording features La Chapelle Royale, directed by Philippe Herreweghe.

SIX

Vaughan Williams: I will give my love an apple 

I used to sing this as a boy soprano, and it’s haunted me ever since. This took quite some tracking down, as the YouTube file is misnamed. Grrrrr.

SEVEN

Erlebach: Overture No. 3 (recorded in 1938)

This one here’s a real historical curiosity.

Philip Heinrich Erlebach (1657–1714) was a prolific composer: he wrote more than 1000 works. Only about 70 now survive, because of a fire at the Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Royal Court.

The Scheck-Wenzinger Chamber Group was one of the first to perform using early instruments using the old, low Baroque pitch (A=415, instead of the modern standard A=440). Apart from the snap, crackle and pop of the 78s, it’s hard to believe it was recorded nearly 80 years ago.

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