That Decisive Moment: Hyper-High Notes: The Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments on YouTube


Audrey Luna, left, in “The Exterminating Angel” at the Metropolitan OperaCreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

Our critics and reporters offer a glimpse of what’s moved and delighted them on YouTube. Read the rest of our classical music coverage here.


‘People Listen’

This week we learned that a previously unknown Kurt Weill song had been discovered in Berlin. Its existence was a surprise to Weill experts, who found that it had been written for a satirical revue in 1930 and sung by Lotte Lenya, his wife. People familiar with Lenya’s many recordings may be caught off guard by how high the song’s vocal part is; by the 1950s and ’60s her voice had settled into a husky Sprechstimme. But listen to this recording from 1930, around the time when Lenya left the revue for a Berlin production of Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s opera “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.” Her voice, while far from operatic, is in the youthful soprano range that Weill would have known and written for in his Weimar-era stage works. “She can’t read music,” he once said of Lenya, “but when she sings, people listen as if it were Caruso.” JOSHUA BARONE

Listen to and learn more about the newly discovered song by Kurt Weill.

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Hyper-High Notes

While we’re on the subject of sopranos, I wrote this week about the highest note in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, an A above high C currently being sung by Audrey Luna in Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel.” In my brief rundown of high-note history, I referred to the French soprano Mado Robin “shrilling” up to a high B flat; my infelicitous phrasing got called out by some Mado fans, one of whom was kind enough to send along a couple of her highlights. Recorded live, this is, my reader tells me, a French version of one of the big Miliza Korjus showpieces from the 1938 MGM musical “The Great Waltz.” Its climax takes her up to what I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) is quite a lovely sustained B flat, half a step above Ms. Luna’s achievement. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Read our piece on the highest note in the history of the Met.

AT 3 minutes 56 seconds

Understudy Stratosphere

O.K., we’re not done with the high notes yet. The soprano Rachele Gilmore has sung just two Met performances, as the doll Olympia in Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” in 2009, when she replaced an ill Kathleen Kim around Christmastime. But she made the pair of outings count, interpolating an A flat that was, at the time, the highest note ever on the Met stage. Quite a way to understudy. ZACHARY WOOLFE

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Urgent Finale

The radical legacy of the composer Robert Ashley is not hard to discern in Paul Pinto’s impressive new chamber opera, “Thomas Paine in Violence,” which runs through Nov. 18. Even if this production did not feature Joan La Barbara — the vocalist, composer and longtime Ashley collaborator — fans of postmodern music theater would still sense some of Mr. Pinto’s stylistic debts. To wit: Early on, the audience is told that Ms. La Barbara is, in fact, the spirit of Thomas Paine, broadcasting a radio program from space. It’s easy to accept this opening provocation, thanks to febrile writing that accompanies the absurdism. At first, the work is driven by a generously amplified electronic sound design, as well as a quartet of vocalists who chime in alongside Ms. La Barbara’s hypnotic solo part. But the work hits a new expressive level in its closing section, after cello, harp, piano and violin have been added to the ensemble. As new harmonies (and characters) appear, Mr. Pinto’s adaptation of Paine’s writing becomes a bit less arch, and all the more affecting. The urgency of the opera’s final 15 minutes is what you may recall most. SETH COLTER WALLS


Florid and Fast

A generation ago there were some superb countertenors around, but not that many. More recently, fine young countertenors just keep appearing on the scene. This week Jakub Jozef Orlinski, 26, won a hearty ovation for his melting performance of a ruminative aria from Paola Prestini’s recent opera “Gilgamesh,” part of the American Composers Orchestra’s 40th-birthday concert. Countertenors are essential to Baroque opera, of course. Here is Mr. Orlinksi sounding very much at home in a virtuosic aria from Vivaldi’s “Il Tigrane.” This breathless music whisks by, so don’t miss the moment in the darker middle section when Mr. Orlinski confidently dispatches some florid, fast passagework. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Read our review of the American Composers Orchestra concert.


Desperately Dancing

If there was any blemish in the New York Philharmonic’s cycle of Leonard Bernstein’s symphonies, it was the piano solos in the Second Symphony, “The Age of Anxiety.” The jazz pianist Makoto Ozone injected a long improvised cadenza toward the end of the piece’s otherwise meditative finale, and played the jazzy scherzo movement, “The Masque,” with awkward caution. There will be other opportunities to hear the symphony this season — Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays the solo part with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in the spring — but in the meantime plenty of worthwhile recordings exist online. One, with a young Krystian Zimerman at the piano, led by Bernstein himself, perfectly captures the scherzo’s uninhibited spirit: its insecurity, naïve obstinacy and, ultimately, desperation. JOSHUA BARONE

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Starting to Swing

The composer Francis Thorne, who died in March at 94, had many facets to his career. In his early days he was an accomplished jazz pianist, and the influence of jazz courses through many of his concert works. His Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece recorded brilliantly by Ursula Oppens, deftly blends jazz and modernist styles. Mr. Thorne was also the primary founder of the invaluable American Composers Orchestra, which began its 40th-birthday concert with his exuberant “Fanfare, Fugue and Funk.” Here’s a piece that shows another, more pensive side of Thorne’s music: the Adagietto Cantabile movement from his Symphony No. 6 for Stringed Instruments (1992). Every moment matters in this ruminative yet somehow intense and harmonically piercing music. But catch the playful bit a few minutes in, when things ever so briefly start to swing. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

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German Nightingale

Lest you thought I had let you off the hook on high notes, here’s a YouTube rabbit hole you might not want to join me down: Erna Sack, the so-called German Nightingale, who dazzled before the Second World War and was known for the agility and purity of the very top of her range, up to a quick but clear C above high C. Check out this little cadenza in Johann Strauss II’s “Frühlingsstimmen” waltz. (And then go on to this, this and…) ZACHARY WOOLFE

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