in: Reviews

August 24, 2014

Maverick Spanish Marathon

by

Alexander Platt

Alexander Platt

The Music Director of Maverick Concerts is an orchestra conductor in the rest of his working life. Going back to early Maverick tradition, he has reintroduced an annual chamber orchestra concert, which he leads. Alexander Platt is a fine conductor, and having him conduct at Maverick is an asset. He’s also usually a fine programmer. This year he may have gone a little too far. Is he getting ideas from the extravagant programs of the nearby Bard Music Festival?

The concert was entitled “In the House of Don Manuel: An Extravaganza Celebrating the Friendship of Manuel de Falla dn Federico Garcia Lorca.” It was certainly an extravaganza, lasting 3 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions, the second one not really necessary (coming after only 25 minutes of Falla). We also had extensive spoken comments from the Spanish journalist and writer Guillermo Fesser, now a resident of nearby Rhinebeck. Everything Fesser had to say was interesting, but I felt it was too much information for its purpose, especially on so long a program. Still, I was fascinated to hear that the photo which has been circulating recently, supposedly of Lorca sitting on a porch in the Ulster County town of Shandaken, is authentic. He was really here in 1929, when he was living in New York.

Nearly all of the music had relevance to Lorca, beginning with Silvestre Revueltas’s “Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca.” I’ve known this music for years, since first hearing it on an old MGM mono LP conducted by Carlos Surinach. But I honestly cannot recall ever having heard it in live performance before. The expert instrumentalists, some from the local area, some from the Providence-based ensemble Aurea, tore into the piece with great gusto, and Platt kept the complex rhythms and interplay clear. The great humor of this piece also came across well.

Platt said he has been wanting for a long time to bring Simon Holt’s “Canciones” to Maverick. The piece, composed in 1986, was billed as a U.S. premiere. Platt also said it was probably the most difficult music ever performed at Maverick, which I suppose might be true although we’ve also heard all of the late Beethoven Quartets.

Holt is a timbre freak; he uses a great variety of sound. The flutist had four different instruments to play at various times during the piece. The poetic settings included one by Lorca and two anonymous Spanish poems Lorca had written about. The British mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer was imported for this occasion, for understandable reasons. She dealt with Holt’s demanding writing so convincingly that she won an ovation from the audience. I’m not sure I’ll be in a great hurry to hear this 23 minute piece again, but within its highly dissonant idiom it did make sense and held the attention. I wouldn’t know how good the performance was, but everyone sounded as if they knew what they were doing.

Part 1 concluded with Ginastera’s “Punena No. 2″ for solo cello, played by Emmanuel Feldman of Aurea. I don’t know what the connection to Lorca was, except that both he and Ginastera spoke Spanish. (Incidentally, the name Ginastera is pronounced with a hard “g,” as in “gadzooks.” I heard this from the composer himself, who explained that it’s a Catalan name.) I love Ginastera’s music, and Feldman did a remarkable job with this very difficult piece. I suppose it could have been eliminated, making the program 10 minutes shorter, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The remainder of the program was all music by Falla. To begin Part 2, Fesser explained at some length (TMI for me) that Lorca and Falla were very close friends and there is even some suspicion they may have been lovers. Platt has put together his own suite from Falla’s “The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife,” the original chamber version of “The Three-Cornered Hat.” The chamber scoring sounded very effective in this 200-seat hall. Platt led an idiomatic and very entertaining performance. I knew that mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro was going to be part of this concert but it was still a shock hearing that rich throaty sound coming, cleverly, from the back of the hall as the “Song of the Cuckoo” began.” Todaro sang the solo in the chamber version of “El Amor Brujo” three weeks ago at the nearby Phoenicia Festival of the Voice,” so I know she has it in her to do that semi-gypsy style of singing Falla requires in his ballets. Without pause, the conclusion of “The Magistrate” seguéd straight into Falla’s “Psyché,” very different music which Todaro sang with sophistication and a different kind of beautiful sound.

Part 2 lasted only 25 minutes but it was followed by another intermission. Part 3, also all Falla, belonged to pianist Jenny Lin, who had participated in the earlier ensemble works of Revueltas and Falla. She played two Falla solo piano works, the early “Serenata Andaluza” and his most substantial piano solo, “Fantasia Bética,” with virtuosity, an idiomatic approach, and beautiful, rich sound.

Lin remained for the concluding work, Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto, in the composer-sanctioned alternate for piano. Platt claimed that Falla himself played this piece on the piano, which may be true, but he recorded it on the harpsichord. It would be hard to get hold of the instrument this music was written for, Landowska’s huge clangy Pleyel, but that would balance better with the other instruments than a baroque-style harpsichord. I do feel that the harpsichord serves the austerity of this magnificent music, perhaps Falla’s greatest work, better than the piano. But Lin and Platt and the five other players collaborated on a performance which was probably as effective as that scoring could be, with very crisp ensemble and sharp execution of Falla’s rhythms. I ended the evening both exhausted and exhilarated.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

7 Comments

  1. I got hold of a Landowskaesque Pleyel for a presentation a few years ago and found it surprisingly mild. Did hold tune well, though, and the 16ft register was profound. Those instruments sounded better in recordings than in concert- like all harpsichords.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — August 24, 2014 at 8:20 pm

  2. I plead guilty: I was the harpsichordist for the Pleyel presentation that Lee Eiseman describes. And I agree completely with everything Lee Eisemann says about the Pleyel. The volume of sound these instruments produce always seems to be in an inverse proportion to the total weight of the instrument, which is not much lighter than a grand piano, But ah, that wonderful 16-foot register! Worth every ounce.

    Comment by Mark Kroll — August 25, 2014 at 7:04 am

  3. Good morning – thank you for your review. Please note, I’m an American living in Britain, dedicated to new music on both sides of the pond. Thank you.

    Comment by Lucy Schaufer — August 26, 2014 at 7:39 am

  4. 1.The traditional Argentine pronunciation of Ginastera would actually sound to us something like “Yinastera”; but, according to the musicologist Professor Deborah Schwartz-Kates, a recognized expert on the composer who wrote the Ginastera entry for the 2001 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, in the last years of his life Ginastera preferred to pronounce his last name in the Catalan pronunciation: this would mean that the opening sound would be like the “J” of the name “John” in English, the “G” as in “George”, or “J” in the French name “Jacques”.

    2. You say that the performance of the Simon Holt CANCIONES “was billed as a U.S. premiere”; it was the U.S. premiere, with the parts being engraved from manuscript for the occasion by the publishers in London.

    3. I have no relationship whatsoever with the Bard Music Festival.

    Comment by Alexander Platt — August 27, 2014 at 4:52 am

  5. Our wonderfully durable Yamaha pianoforte was the perfect vehicle for the Maverick Concerts’ own presentation of the Falla Concerto — the title page of which states very clearly is for Harpsichord, or Piano. Our stage at the Concert Hall is so incredibly small, there literally would be no room in which to fit a harpsichord along with all the other needed instruments; then, there is the usual summer climate in Woodstock, described by my distant predecessor, the great Georges Barrere as cold and rainy, when not hot and sultry…..this year’s extremely mild summer has been, as we all know, an unforeseen exception to the rule. As we perform literally out of doors, this has been the general reason as to why we tend to shy away from presenting early-music performances. Obviously the harpsichord is ultimately the ideal instrument on which to hear this immortal work, but I’m proud that, in the Maverick tradition, we gave audiences a extraordinarily rare chance to hear an expert performance of the Concerto in its alternate version; so here’s to our presenting it in its familiar version sometime soon…..maybe on a September date, when the humidity is down and the Yamaha has been removed for the season.

    Comment by Alexander Platt — August 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

  6. Mr. Platt is correct: Falla did sanction performances of the concerto on harpsichord or piano, and I think they sound marvelous (and marvelously different) on either instrument. From the review, it sounds like this was the case with the fine pianist like Jenny Lin and her colleagues. However, may I rise to defend the tuning stability of the poor, little harpsichord? Granted, it will never approach that of the modern grand piano, with its metal bracing and thick case, but the harpsichord’s reputation as unstable (I am not talking about harpsichordist here) is a bit overstated. For example, during my recent concert in “The Breakers” at the Newport Music Festival this summer, not only was the weather “hot and sultry,” but the double doors just about 20 feet from the stage, and which look out directly on the bay, were kept wide open. My worries that the tuning wouldn’t resemble a western scale after just a few minutes were completely unfounded. The harpsichord held its own (i.e., tuning)—a real trooper.

    Comment by Mark Kroll — August 28, 2014 at 8:56 am

  7. Thank you Mr. Kroll for your comment. Would love to hear the Falla at the Maverick on harpsichord someday. I also wish someone would make a chamber-ensemble version of that Poulenc “Concert Champetre”!

    Comment by alexander platt — August 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

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