BSO Strives to Maintain Live Friday Broadcasts

Interview with Jonathan Menkis, Chair of BSO Players’ Committee

The Boston Symphony Orchestra management feels the loss of the Friday afternoon broadcasts represents a significant rupture with a loyal subscriber base. Further, both the BSO management and the players committee agree that it is very important for the BSO to have broadcast exposure. They feel that as media exposure has been drying up, it has become harder for the BSO to maintain its position on the world stage. And what the BSO gains from those broadcasts is immense. [continued]

Equilibrium and Extraordinary Pianism from Emanuel Ax

Yet another celebrity visited the city under the auspices of Boston’s Celebrity Series, underlining further still the aptness of that organization’s name. Pianist Emanuel Ax played in Jordan Hall on January 8 before a capacity audience. Fantasies of Chopin and Schumann afforded uncommon opportunity for delving into some of music’s freest—not to mention, challenging—twists. Unfortunately, from the very start of the concert, a film of reverberation coated the surface of the sound, dulling any shine that might otherwise have been present in the performance. Through the haze, fortunately, much of Ax’s extraordinary pianism emerged, both technique and endurance meeting the formidable demands in an utterly deep penetration of equilibrium by the esteemed pianist. The concert included Chopin’s Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat Major, Opus 61 and Andante Spianato and Grande polonaise, Opus 22 along with Schumann’s Phantasiestücke, Opus 12 and Phantasie in C Major, Opus 17. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

BSO, Ma Light on Their Toes under Koopman

The question of the day for Boston Symphony under the direction of Baroque specialist Ton Koopman is, how does a late-19th-century-style band respond to the original-instruments esthetic? The answer, as demonstrated at the January 7 performance at Symphony Hall, is “admirably.” In the Haydn Symphony No. 98 in B flat, Koopman could let the music speak for itself without troweling on sentimental languors. The minuet also showed another of Koopman’s little tricks: propulsion through brilliant dynamic manipulation, especially a squeeze of sound over a short span somewhere between a crescendo and a sforzando. Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of the Haydn C major cello concerto was absolutely the best this listener has ever heard, the soloist sailing on clouds of Haydnly bliss. Koopman and his born-again classicists brought off with enormous panache all the compositional quirks of CPE Bach’s Symphony in G major, Wq. 183 #4. The exquisitely accurate, tight and concise performance of Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony was designed to highlight whence Schubert came, stylistically, rather than whither he was heading. Not at all a bad thing to do with so familiar a masterwork. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Future of Classical Music Broadcasting in Boston in Jeopardy

More than 400 classical music aficionados filled the New Old South Church Tuesday night, January 5, to voice their concerns over elimination of classical music programming at WGBH Radio. On December 1, WGBH shifted all its concert music broadcasts to station WCRB, where it has established a 24-hour all-classical format and promptly announced the cancellation of Friday BSO broadcasts. Note: The Boston Phoenix is streaming the audio from the event here. [continued]

New Year Celebrated with Panache in Two Comic Operas from Boston Baroque

Boston Baroque rang in the new year (and decade) at Sanders Theatre with a delicious program combining pieces from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s childhood and maturity and a comic intermezzo by Mozart’s slightly older contemporary, Domenico Cimarosa. Bastien und Bastienne, a one-act opera commissioned by the famous Viennese physician and “magnetist,” Anton Mesmer, was a creation of the 12-year-old Mozart. All three singers sang with consistently clear diction. Kristen Watson, as the shepherdess Bastienne, quite convincingly portrayed the late-adolescent melodrama of a girl in love who feels spurned. David Kravitz as the quack magician made the most of his showstopper comic aria, rhyming nonsensical incantations mixed with familiar (and almost completely irrelevant) Latin phrases. Lawrence Jones very effectively conveys Bastien’s utter sincerity — even naïveté — with sunny face and pure tone. Mr. Pearlman chose to use the earlier orchestration of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, which does not include clarinets; coupled with the use of period instruments, this does lighten the weight of the overall texture, lending it sprightliness and heightened clarity even at very brisk tempi. Still, the dark side of the piece remained ever present with its turbulent rhythms and harmonies, emphatic dissonances and sudden, extreme dynamic contrasts. Domenico Cimarosa’s Il maestro di cappella (The Music Director) portrayed the stock character (at least nowadays) of the pompous conductor who is his own greatest admirer. One should not expect music of any profundity here, but as a comic scena, it rates high. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Moondrunkenness Needed for Pierrot Lunaire to Come Alive

The chance to hear Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire seemed like a natural choice for New Year’s Eve at the Gardner Museum. Being a holiday night, a larger event was spun around the concert. The bar was set in front of El Jaleo. Paula Robison, known primarily as a flautist, took the role of the speaker. She wore a plain white dress that resembled a nightgown and suggested a homebound insanity: someone who wandered out of her bedroom long enough to deliver her ravings, someone who would return to her quarters just as suddenly as she emerged. She kept a safe distance from any psychic edge (as did the dry, illustrative musicians). Fitting as it was, a blue moon can only provide the astrological scenery. Moondrunkeness is an individual effort, one that is needed for Pierrot Lunaire to come alive. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

BCMS Does Time on Three January Saturdays, supper included

The last interview here of Marcus Thompson, violist and artistic director of Boston Chamber Music Society, led us into BCMS’s coming season, closing with a hint about a new Winter Festival, which will consist of three panel discussions in the late afternoons, followed by concerts at 8 pm (with a chance for participants to purchase a box supper) on consecutive Saturdays— January 9, 16 and 23 —at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. As news of the BCMS Winter Festival and Forums and its theme, “Musical Time,” emerged, we asked Marcus what makes this festival tick and how it came about. [continued]


Anything We Can Do for Classical Music Radio in Boston?

Boston Musical Intelligencer will be presenting a panel discussion at Old South Church, Copley Square, Tuesday, January 5, 6:00 to 7:30 pm. The panel intends to address the overwhelming response of dismay at the diminution of classical music programming in the greater Boston area.

Moderator: William M. Bulger, former MA Senate President and President, University of Massachusetts, board member of the Boston Public Library and BSO Panelists: Richard Dyer, former classical music critic, The Boston Globe; Christopher Lydon, Radio Talk Host; Dave MacNeill, for many decades announcer, then general manager at the old WCRB; and John Voci, general manager, WGBH Respondents from BMInt: Mark DeVoto, John W. Ehrlich, Brian Jones, Peter Van Zandt Lane, Tom Schnauber, David Patterson, Rebecca Marchand. The event is free and open to the public. Click here for a printable flyer. Click title to read comments. [continued]

Something Wonderful: Trek thru Snow for Boston Camerata and Sharq

By the 13th century, much of the Iberian Peninsula had cultivated a colorful sonic blend of early Arabic and Medieval European sensibilities that is by and large ignored by the standard Western canon. On December 20th at the First Lutheran Church in Boston, The Boston Camerata, with three musicians from Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble, delivered “A Mediterranean Christmas.”

One offering, eight cantigas of the Virgin Mary attributed to the Castilian King Alfonso X “el Sabio,” allowed both Sharq and Camerata to combine effectively the sounds of distinctly Arabic instruments, like the oud, nay, and zurna, with their distinctly European cousins, like the lauta, recorder, and shawm.

For all the musicological feasting, what really made the concert a delight was that it was delivered with such skilled and joyful musicianship. The vocal sonorities the Camerata’s three singers, Anne Azéma, Salomé Sandoval, and Anne Harley, were perfectly matched, especially effective in Joel Cohen’s artful realizations of early polyphonic songs from Limoges. The real standout performer, however, was Sharq’s Mehmet Sanlikol. He proved himself a master of improvisation on the oud and the zurna; but his true gift is his singing. His achingly emotive performances of the Sephardic “Respondemos” and the Turkish “Sen bir Guzel Meleksin” were simply stunning.

The audience’s trek through the snow, much like that of the Magi’s across the desert in that old story, led to something wonderful. [Click title for full review.]


Oriana Delivers Balm on Cold Winter’s Night

Led by music director Walter Chapin, The Oriana Consort performed a program of “New Songs for Midwinter” at the First Lutheran Church of Boston on December 18. Eric Whitacre’s stunning Lux aurumque, with haunting suspensions and a deeply melismatic bass, create an aura of profound peace and wonder. The consort sang on an exalted level here. Debussy’s deft scolding in Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain left the listener wishing for more. Abbie Betinis (b. 1980) punctuated bright, high quailing with an arhythmic flute obbligato (nicely played by Vanessa Holroyd). This was a wonderfully conceived (and enthusiastically received) program, affording many soloists within the consort a chance to shine. What better balm for a cold winter night? [Click title for full review.] [continued]

H & H Baroque Authenticity Made Miraculous Chemistry

No more than 16 instrumentalists carried Baroque authenticity into a dynamic that carried the listener into a meditative state virtually free of life’s stresses in the 21st century, especially at this time of year. Dutch conductor and cellist Jaap ter Linden summoned up rare energetic progression from Manfredini through Handel, Muffat, Bach and Corelli, composers all from the Baroque era. Whether listeners were familiar or not with their music, Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on December 17 made the connections. Concertmaster Daniel Stepner and Principal second violinist Linda Quan, here as well as throughout the concert, volleyed imitation upon imitation in impeccable stereophonic fashion from their stage left and stage right positions. Baroque oboists Stephen Hammer and Marc Schachman and bassoonist Andrew Schwartz changed the color of the string ensemble with edgeless rounds of ever-so-inviting sounds. Baroque flute soloist Christopher Krueger stood amidst the orchestra producing finely balanced unisons with the orchestra, departing on solo shots with ease, his articulation of the dance rhythms altogether fetching. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Not the Usual Pabulum for Children from the New England Philharmonic

The New England Philharmonic performed a wonderful child-friendly concert with imaginative programming on December 13, 2009 at the Tsai Performance Center. William Kraft’s “A Simple Introduction to the Orchestra” was narrated by Joyce Kulhawik. Based on the tune “Frère Jacques,” it is played by various sections of the orchestra. Nathaniel Stookey’s The Composer Is Dead, written in 2006 on a text by the best-selling children’s author Lemony Snicket (the pseudonym of Daniel Handler) also introduces young audiences to the instruments in the orchestra. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Unexpected Delight

It seemed unlikely to work – an orchestra of 27 players and 130 singers – but the performance of Handel’s Messiah presented by the Cambridge Community Chorus on December 13, 2009, at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium was a delight to hear. Jamie Kirsch conducted with enormous energy. The soloists were more than up to the task, and the acoustics in Kresge – often a bit muddy – were unusually clear. Messiah really belongs to the soloists and the orchestra, and in this performance both were terrific. The Kresge stage often produces muddy sound. But here the huge chorus completely filled the back of the stage, absorbing all the back-wall reflections.  In addition, the orchestra and soloists were on the extended stage, well away from the side walls and close to the audience. Their sound had great dramatic clarity, making emotional contact at a primitive, visceral level. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Cecilia Sets Bar with Woodman’s Music for Christmas Concerts

The Boston Cecilia seemed to set the bar (as they have done for many years) for this season’s classical Christmas scene. The Cecilia, under the baton of Donald Teeters with Barbara Bruns at the organ, excelled at interpreting the works of local sacred composer and organist, James Woodman. The concluding text of The Midwife’s Tale seem to effervesce from the choir as if being spontaneously contrived as an act of creation or genesis, the essence of the text and message conveyed by Woodman. And this is probably where the concert should have ended. The Cecilia lost some of its luster in the second half. Most of this came from the 16th-century Spanish carols, although the Spanish pronunciation seemed a bit muddled throughout. This ambitious program probably could have used some trimming. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

No Bah! Humbug for Vienna Choir Boys at Celebrity Series Concert

A number of bright moments lifted the afternoon out from a somewhat lackluster sound and sometimes tentative singing and foggy entrances at the Vienna Boys Choir Boys’ Holiday Program put on by the Celebrity Series at Jordan Hall on December 12. Conductor Manolo Cagnin directed with arms fully extended, clearly making contact with every one of the young singers. A fabulous arrangement and performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with smooth countrapuntal transitions, an astounding “Christmas” in glorious pop harmony, the melody note high up to climax the song, and perfect diction and ensemble singing would melt away any “Bah! Humbug.” [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Richard Stoltzman and Borromeo String Quartet Premiere Imbrie, Honor Schuller

The Borromeo Quartet collaborated with famed clarinetist Richard Stoltzman in an exceptional concert on December 11 at Harvard Musical Association. Gunther Schuller, in his String Quartet #4, a piece of elegiac lyricism, carries a single held note past the end of a phrase, particularly in the finale; one could regard this gesture as a synecdoche for the operative structure of the whole piece. The remarkable sostenuto in the cello part was beautifully conveyed by Yeesun Kim. Andrew Imbrie, in his final illness during composition of the Clarinet Quintet on a commission from the HMA, finished writing all the notes but not elements like dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Hi Kyung Kim and her clarinetist husband John Sackett worked with Stoltzman and the Borromeo to put the work in final shape. Although valedictory in the literal sense, this work sounds anything but the work of a dying man: it is light, lively, engaging, and snappy. Even on “off” occasions, the performers can, and did, deliver a solid reading of Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Quintet K.581. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Lively Messiah from Boston Baroque

Boston Baroque’s choir of twenty-one voices was nothing short of spectacular in a lively performance of Handel’s Messiah at Jordan Hall on Friday, December 11. The four soloists — tenor Lawrence Wiliford, bass-baritone Timothy Jones, soprano Amanda Forsythe, and mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero — were outstanding in their ability to navigate between lyrical, narrative, and declamatory styles. Boston Baroque’s virtuoso string band, playing on period instruments, was reinforced by a pair of oboes and, where called for, trumpets and timpani. Peter Sykes provided the organ continuo, with Martin Pearlman conducting from the harpsichord. Pearlman’s tempi, which pushed the capabilities of singers and players to their limits, was literally breathtaking, and he showed careful attention to articulation and dynamics of the dance measures that underlie so much of this music. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

WGBH to Discontinue BSO Friday Afternoon Broadcasts

According to officials at WGBH, the station has always looked at opportunities to expand and extend its programming, so when it learned that WCRB was going to be for sale, it became the successful bidder. As radio listeners now know, WGBH has become a news station and spawned WCRB (now at 99.5 FM) as its all-classical arm. This is the first of two articles that will deal with the arrangements between the two stations.

Boston Musical Intelligencer learned this morning that the broadcast schedule for Boston Symphony Orchestra live broadcasts was to be cut in half with the dropping of the Friday afternoon concerts; however, the Saturday evening live broadcast will continue with the same personnel that has been bringing it to the radio audience on Friday afternoons since October, 1991. The Friday afternoon broadcasts were part of the original format of the station and have been running continuously for 58 years. Indeed, the stations’s first broadcast was the Saturday night BSO concert on October 6, 1951, followed by broadcast of the concert the next Friday afternoon. The relationship was even stronger; for the first two years, WGBH’s office and studios were actually located in Symphony Hall, and the symphony programs listed the station’s complete programming. The voice of no less a figure than American composer Aaron Copland was heard during intermission of that first historic broadcast on October 6 (published in the program book for the following week): “It is particularly heartening to be able to take part in the first broadcast of WGBH. I wish I had known about the plan to establish it when I was in Europe for the first six months of this year, because whenever the question [of American radio broadcasts of classical music] came up, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sheepish.It is particularly heartening that there is a station of great interest to an adult mind. The field is wide open and I cannot think of an area better equipped than Boston for the carrying out of an adventurous project of this kind. “As a composer, I am particularly pleased that listeners to WGBH will be able to listen to live broadcasts of BSO concerts. Since each Friday afternoon program will be repeated on Saturday night, listeners will have the opportunity of hearing a new work twice. We contemporary composers like that idea. For the second hearing often tells more about a work than the first. When second impression of a new work may be more or less favorable, it is seldom is exactly the same.” [continued]

BU Symphony Revelatory in Harbison, Schumann

Boston University Symphony Orchestra concerts are as appropriate a place as any to hear the premiere of a major work by a composer of John Harbison’s eminence. That, of course, is just what happened on December 8 at the Tsai Performance Center, along with several other goodies. Harbison’s Concerto for bass viol and orchestra The program opened with the overture to Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, conducted by BU DMA student Tiffany Chang in a fairly straightforward, down-the-middle reading. Edwin Barker, since 1976 the principal contrabassist (to use its other common name) of the Boston Symphony, was at the top of his form. Music Director David Hoose gave the Schumann Second Symphony a high-concept performance from beginning to end: taut, driving, and clipped, with undiminished tension in the first movement, demonic energy in the scherzo, a lyric respite in the slow movement that nevertheless kept tension mounting, and a finale brimming with qualified triumph. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Bass Notes, Legato Tones at Boston Conservatory

Boston Conservatory’s Seully Hall was filled to bursting Tuesday evening, 8 December, for a solo recital given as part of the Conservatory’s Piano Masters Series by faculty member Jonathan Bass. Bass’s tempi in J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in c minor were generally somewhat relaxed, and he did have a predilection for a very legato sound that occasionally resulted in a slight muddying of brisk passages, though this was somewhat offset by his extremely clear and exacting voicing. His propensity for a legato sound and his “emotionally intellectual” approach were both more effective and more apropos in his realization of Claude Debussy’s Estampes. The hands-down highlight of the evening for this listener was the final piece, Samuel Barber’s Sonata, op. 26. The heavily syncopated final Fuga was especially electrifying, and Bass tossed it off with aplomb. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Jazz Propelled into Mainstream Conservatory Education: Gunther Schuller at The Helm of NEC

The BMInt staff’s interview on November 22 with Gunther Schuller lasted two hours. Part 1 was a cut-and-paste of discussions related to two then-upcoming performances of his music. This excerpt deals with Mr. Schuller’s role as president of New England Conservatory (from 1967 until 1977) and his founding of the jazz curriculum.

BMInt: Larry Phillips [Boston organist and reviewer for the Intelligencer] says he went to the Conservatory just because of you.  One day he saw you in the corridor, mopping, and he said, ‘Is this what the conservatory has come to’?


GS: (Laughing) I did that because there were so many problems in the building and there wasn’t enough cleaning up and all of that.  So I just did it myself just to show, Here’s the president, sweeping the stairs…

‘If I can do it, you can do it’?

<p>Commemorating Premiere of Schuler's "Where the World Ends"</p>



Yes. I had to do a lot of that. … Most of the Board thought it was sinful to give money. They are sitting on the Board and they didn’t want to support it financially. Ant they were very wealthy people, most of them. I just got up in the middle of the meeting and said ‘$5,000! Here! Here it is! Now, listen!’… I shamed them into it. And you know, I’m just a poor musician.

Did the composition of the Board change a  lot when you were president?

No, no!  it didn’t change at all. This was the Board that I inherited. By the way, there were no Jews, no Blacks, no, no anything.

Just WASPs — I mean, at the end of your tenure?


It had changed slightly, including the chairman, and that got a little bit worse, not better. But look, never mind. The two people and I, the three of us who saved the Conservatory, were David Scudder and Jim Terry, who were both young on the Board. The three of us got the Ford Foundation grant, 2.5 million dollars, to be matched, and that’s what saved the school.

Was it going to collapse?


OH! It was bankrupt!  It was financially… they had $220,000 in the bank!  And enrollment, which were supposed to be 715, was 215, the padlock was gonna come on the door, with the sheriff. And I rescued the school — with these two guys. [continued]


Schumann’s Second Symphony and the Legacy of Beethoven and Schubert

“From this listener’s perspective it is as perfect a symphony as exists — by anyone. Intellectually compelling, emotionally searing, kinetically irresistible, gorgeous in detail and large sweep, and a thrilling convergence of all his gifts, the Second Symphony is Schumann living his most determined struggle.” (David Hoose, program note for a performance by the Boston University Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 8, 2009) Schumann’s other symphonies, no. 1 (“Spring”, 1841), no. 3 (“Rhenish”, 1851), and the troublesome No. 4 in D minor which underwent much revision (1841, 1851), can all be regarded as his attempts to expand the boundaries of the symphony beyond what had been bequeathed by Beethoven. Beethoven and Schubert, after all, had inherited the classical symphony from Mozart and especially Haydn, and expanded its boundaries in their own works so that it became the romantic symphony in dimension, form, and use of the evolving modern orchestra. But, for any 19th-century composer living after Beethoven, the problem of the orchestral symphony is simple to ask: what can possibly be done in the symphony after the example of Beethoven’s Ninth? [continued]

NESE and Cortese: From Tour de Force to Didactic

Spontaneous applause throughout the hall accompanied voiced exclamations immediately following only the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, with conductor Federico Cortese, at New England String Ensemble‘s concert in Jordan Hall on December 6. This was musicianship and musicality at the highest level — live! For Toru Takemitsu’s Nostalgia, guest violin soloist Haldan Martinson’s controlled range of timbres and vibrato, as well as his bell-like clarity of sound (often reminding me of the Cardinal’s birdcalls), played poetically into the Takemitsu lament. Martinson and NESE countered each other beautifully with restraint and expressiveness. A few upbeat notes in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in d minor, also with Martinson, came with a bit of biting bow, but these became curiosities rather than timbral variances enriching the soundscape. Elsewhere, clean cut violinism prevailed, although some fast violin passage work felt uncomfortable against accompanying strings. Gunther Schuller describes his short Adagio for strings: Ode to the minor 2nd and major 7th as purposely didactic. It was. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Pleasing But Not Moving Messiah from H & H

Good cheer prevailed for this 156th annual traversal on December 4 at the Handel and Haydn tradition with Messiah. It was extremely pleasing but not — despite Christophers’ well-reasoned arguing in the program that he put together an edition of the work to maximize drama — particularly moving. The four soloists were all accomplished and fluent in Handelian style, though most trills were suggested rather than executed. There does seem the sense that H and H favors British “Commonwealth” or at least British-based singers in programming. The orchestra, with the signal and unfortunately very exposed exception of the trumpet soloist, turned in excellent work, particularly in some of the swifter-tempo movements [Click title for full review.]


Emerson Offers Decorous Ives, Balanced Janácek, Old-Friend Shostakovich

The Emerson Quartet visited Jordan Hall on December 4. Their playing of the Ives From the Salvation Army was decorous, but what always excites about Ives is that there’s dirt on the floor when he reaches for the heavens. The reading of Janácek’s First Quartet brought out in equal parts the music’s romanticism and its modernity, its passion and its weirdness. The group seemed most at home in the finale: Shostakovich’s 9th Quartet. Their stance to the piece was that of old friends catching up. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Fine Central Europe Repertoire from Dohnányi, Zimmerman, and BSO

Christoph von Dohnányi, one of the best living conductors and well known to Boston audiences, brought a fine program from central Europe to the Boston Symphony this week. Dohnányi obviously loved the Bartók Divertimento for String Orchestra, and his expressive style permitted a lot of expressive shaping. Much of the string writing involved solo groups, nicely balanced against a ripieno of the full ensemble. The soloist for Martinu’s Violin Concerto No. 2 was Frank Peter Zimmermann, who clearly seemed to be enjoying the work even though there were times when he was at odds with the orchestra. The third movement definitely got down to real virtuosic display, and very successfully. Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8’s orchestral richness is memorable throughout, from the divided violas and cellos at the beginning of the first movement to the brilliant tutti in the finale. One can go home cheerfully singing and whistling all the melodies. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

NEC’s Magical Hansel and Gretel Now Playing at Cutler Majestic

The New England Conservatory Opera Theater is presenting an abbreviated  English production of Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel the weekend of December 4, 5 and 6 at the Cutler Majestic Theater. The tale is less terrifying and more magical in the libretto prepared by Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette, than is The Grimm Brothers’ version. Guest conductor Christopher Larkin led the NEC Opera Orchestra, and there were many felicities in Patricia-Maria Weinmann’s direction. As the witch, mezzo soprano Oriana Dunlop came across as a slightly scary Annie Oakley. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Chiara Quartet Scales Mt. Beethoven

The Chiara Quartet embarked on their ascent of Mt. Beethoven on December 2 at Paine Hall before a packed house with selected works from all three of Beethoven’s creative periods, starting with his final effort in this medium, the op. 135, followed by the op. 18 no. 4 and ending with the epochal first Razumovsky quartet, op. 59 no. 1. Of the Chiara’s performances on this occasion it can be said that they are on track not only to reach the summit of this particular range, but to establish themselves in due but not-too-distant course at or near the top of the list of eminent quartets. While their interpretive and ensemble playing were of exceptionally high quality, the Chiara still has a few hurdles to clear. The biggest issue this correspondent noted was dynamic balance, as distinct from dynamic structure. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Madsen and New 17th-century-style Harpsichord Celebrate Hamburg Legacy

Back Bay’s musically active First Lutheran Church presented the first of its traditional free Candlelight Advent Concerts, an unusual recital by gifted harpsichordist, organist, and improvisor, Andrus Madsen on December 2. Mr. Madsen is no stammering academic. He engages his audience with an entertaining verbal anchoring of the music in its time and place, showing a familiarity with the historical, linguistic, and cultural milieu that is unusual for an American musician. Though he adeptly draws his listeners in, he is clearly speaking from the point of view of an experienced performer-researcher, and he does not shy away from peppering general remarks with the technically specific minutiæ that deepen experienced listeners’ relish of seldom encountered or, as with this program, heretofore unheard scores. The mid-17th century steeped itself in the strong, new stock of the Baroque, yet late-Renaissance keyboard runs in either hand and brilliant or pensive toccata-esque passages still permeated the nascent forms with an olden flavor. Mr. Madsen demonstrated this first on a spanking new 17th-c. Italian harpsichord by builder Robert Hicks. The pungent, rich sound truly filled First Lutheran’s intimate, resonant nave. The small, attentive audience drank in this fresh, unfamiliar repertoire. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

Borromeo Champions “Old” and New Masters

It’s hard to believe that the Borromeo String Quartet is now 20 years old, although the current roster, with founders Nicholas Kitchen, first violin, and Yeesun Kim, cello, joined by second violin Kristopher Tong and violist Mai Motobuchi, has been in place long enough to ensure the continuity of the Borromeo’s group personality. Their Jordan Hall performance on Monday, November 30, continued their longstanding commitment to stretching the repertoire to include “old” masters of the 20th century and freshly minted works. This evening brought to its large and highly appreciative audience one relative newcomer to watch and two Old Masters, of whom one, Gunther Schuller, was on hand to accept the plaudits that were his due. Lamentation and Satire by Mohammed Fairouz, an Egyptian-born 24-year-old composer who was also in the audience, has been recorded for Schuller’s own GM label. The segue from keening to kidding is quite subtle, involving, it would seem, more a matter of introducing compositional and sonic techniques of earlier periods—rigorous counterpoint, Bartókian glissandi, a touch of Shostakovich here and there—than overt jocularity. Schuller’s Fourth String Quartet is a seemingly elegiac work, with two outer slow movements framing an electrically charged central sort-of-scherzo, from which the Borromeo unleashed crackling energy. Bartók’s Fourth Quartet, from 1928, remains one of the freshest-sounding works ever created for this medium; still crazy after all these years. The Borromeo dug right in and unleashed the passion and energy that any perfect performance requires, to show off the quicksilver muted first scherzo, the reed-organ accompaniment to Kim’s gorgeous solos in the central slow movement, and the mock-zither pizzicato of the second scherzo. The opening movement was taken slightly more slowly than other versions I’ve heard, but the savage intensity of the finale was all there and then some. [Click title for full review.] [continued]