It’s not often that I get a chance to hear two of my favorite piano concertos together with something entirely new. As Simone Dinnerstein presided at the piano, Emmanuel Music Orchestra’s run-out to the near-capacity Distler Hall at Tufts dished out Bach, Glass, and Mozart illustrated by video.
J. S. Bach’s Clavier Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052, in a nigh-flawless and triumphant performance, reminded many of us of its stature as one of the greatest works not only by Bach but of all time — notwithstanding that the BWV catalogue says that “its authenticity has been doubted.” At that, this favorite concerto might well have been an expansion and transformation from an earlier concerto for violin; there are imitations of open-string bariolage that imply as much; but nobody other than Bach could have written this magnificently idiomatic and keyboardistic journey through expressive harmony, tonal drama, and moto perpetuo sound. Bach wrote other keyboard concertos, including two for organ that he arranged from Vivaldi, but the only other work of his that compares with the D minor in virtuosity is the considerably lighter Fifth Brandenburg. Listen to the pedal-point moments in the first movement of the D minor, where the strings pause to let the solo sing forth, and you will hold your breath. Dinnerstein clung to these moments admirably, with minimal change of tempo or rubato, and with perfectly graduated dynamics. The second movement, a quiet right-hand cantilena, has a slowly soaring melody and poignantly placed accents and trills; the left hand doubles the melodic bass throughout. The finale motors as energetically as the first movement, or even more so, but its impetus comes from repeated anapest motives offsetting the continuous line.
Philip Glass delivered his Tirol Concerto (2000) to a commission from the Austrian government for its summer festival “Klangspuren” (on the trail of sound) in the Tyrol, and bases its three movements on Austrian folksong fragments. It shows Glass’s emergence from the mechanically minimalist styles of his earlier years (I glanced at some of these five weeks ago HERE), with a fondness for varied parallel triads without suspensions, Fauré-like harmonic shifts in relentless four-bar phrases, and a general lack of rhythm. Like Virgil Thomson’s folk-music style, it proceeds but doesn’t develop. In earlier years Glass often favored a motive of motive arpeggiating right-hand sextuplets: four notes up overlapping with four down. The second movement, the longest, which went on and on over a basic permutation of four G minor harmonies (i, VI, V, and VII with an occasional seventh); it featured a dialogue of block chords and up-and-down scales, over an oscillation of strings played almost entirely senza vibrato. The finale, in jazzy but steady 7/8, C major, romped with an occasional bouncy bass, very Louisville in sound without strung-out patterns, and a good time had by all.
The concert concluded with Mozart’s beloved 21st Piano Concerto, K. 467, in C Major. (I can’t seem to find Leopold Mozart’s letter in which he mentions that “Wolfgang has written a new concerto more difficult and more dissonant than any hitherto,” but I remember the aptness of the remark.) Dinnerstein went through this great work with all of the tenderness and aplomb it simultaneously requires. The large wind complement was well-attuned to the overall balance. The muted strings, in the “Elvira Madigan” slow movement, sounded perfectly warm and sensitive, even dreamlike, especially in those richly expressive cadential passages where the suspensions gnarl with each other. Dinnerstein gave a thoroughly convincing, vigorous and singing interpretation throughout. I have to say that I did not like the first-movement cadenzat; it was too sprawling, over-romanticized, and chromatically dubious; a cadenza that follows a C major six-four shouldn’t begin in A major. Maybe it’s naive to expect that in the 21st century a cadenza for an 18th-century concerto should at least make a stab at sounding 18th-century contemporary (as Beethoven did when he wrote his cadenzas for Mozart’s 20th concerto, composed the same year. The published cadenza by August Winding for K. 467 (Schirmer edition) isn’t very good; but I can highly recommend those by Robert Casadesus and Robert Levin. (I too have composed cadenzas for this concerto that aren’t too bad, have had performances in Europe, and are available on request.)
The Emmanuel Orchestra, long known for some Boston’s best-known freelance musicians, provided impeccable accompanimental sound during the entire evening; Ryan Turner, the conductor, barely visible in the muted lighting (dimmed for the projections), provided total leadership. I’m delighted to call out Peggy Pearson’s beautiful oboe. The brass made solid contributions without overdoing the enthusiasm.
The visually skillful and unquestionably pretty monochrome projections of catkins, dried leaves, or zircon necklaces, or colored Rorschach patterns by friend-of-the-artists Laurie Olinder, offered little beyond an annoying distraction; I want to see what the players are doing.