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Efficient production of Carmen at the Shubert

The attraction of Bizet’s Carmen to generations is the almost non-stop singable melodies, bellowed in enjoyable recollection by even the most amateur chanteurs. The production put on by Boston Lyric Opera at the Shubert Theatre last night (and continuing through Nov. 17) is a good show. The singing roles were well cast, and the orchestra, under Keith Lockhart, did an admirable job. Another good aspect of this production was the choice and unity of setting and costumes. It is a shame that the Card Trio was cut. Is four hours really too long for a humdinger of an opera? [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Two Revolutionaries Beethoven and Ives from NEC Philharmonia

Hugh Wolff, Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Director of Orchestras and Chair of Orchestral Conducting, is a treasure at New England Conservatory. On November 4, he led a lively and exacting performance of the NEC Philharmonia, the school’s top orchestra, which demonstrated that they were the equal of many professional groups. The program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2. There was a particularly beautiful, quietly accompanied, first cello solo in the Lento maestoso fourth movement of the Ives, which led without pause into the raucous last movement. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Fellner’s Beethoven Wows Knowledgeable BCM Audience

The Viennese pianist Till Fellner played five Beethoven sonatas — six, including an encore — for a knowledgeable and appreciative audience on Tuesday evening, November 3, at Boston Conservatory. In the F Major sonata, Op. 78, Fellner gave us beautifully voiced chords and contrapuntal clarity and light-fingered playfulness. The nostalgic pastoral mood and sustained lyricism of the Rondo Finale of  the Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, interspersed with passages of ethereal counterpoint, was the perfect vehicle for Fellner’s beautifully rounded tone and sense of space. His sure sense of  pacing, his singing tone heard even in rapid passagework, and his ability to render passages with the utmost clarity without sounding forced, all contributed to a stellar performance.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Cracks Repaired: Durufle To Be Played by Wood on “Just Right” Organ

Ross Wood is the perfect person to be playing the Duruflé Requiem on Old South Church’s notable organ next Sunday afternoon. Wood has played in Duruflé ‘s own church in … [continued] [continued]
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Fliter’s Jordan Hall Debut Technically Brilliant, Short on Songfulness

Celebrity Series of Boston presented Ingrid Fliter in her Jordan Hall début on Sunday, November 1.  without theatrical gestures and with a respect for the score that remained her most winning trait throughout this full program. The top and middle registers of the Hamburg Steinway D she chose to play were entirely magical, reliably allowing Ms. Fliter to summon forth pianissimi and gossamer shimmers that concert grands do not usually produce. The lower reaches of the keyboard, however, emitted chill clangor, even brutality, when the score called for full chordal textures. Ms. Fliter’s diverse collage of six mostly posthumous Chopin waltzes with predominance of flat or natural keys was a treat, an opportunity to savor a gentle, at times buttery palette that was in marked contrast with glittering sharp-key angles. For Schumann’s encyclopedic, swirling Études symphoniques, Op. 13 , Ms. Fliter played the five “posthumous” variations re-inserted by Johannes Brahms in 1873. Fliter brought all this off with great sweep and emphatically symphonic power, leaving the listener with an unaccustomed architectural sense of landscape and irresistible propulsiveness, but she did not evoke lyrical songfulness where it is so very often called for. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Common Ground Between Disparates: Emmanuel Performs Haydn, Schoenberg

Emmanuel Music presented the second chamber music concert of their 2009-2010 “Haydn/Schoenberg: Fathers of Invention” concert season on Sunday, November 1, that unwrapped musical treasures from the two composers. Haydn and Schoenberg both have been judged by canonical works, and it was a pleasure to investigate the periphery of their output. It was the second half of the program that so perfectly summarized the rationale behind the entire concert series. The concert included Schoenberg’s 1946 String Trio, which recalled some of the ghostly moments of Ein Stelldichein, and Peggy Pearson’s arrangement of Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, No. 35. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Boston Music World Offers Birthday Tributes to Yehudi Wyner

Dinosaur Annex sponsored a warm testimony to Yehudi Wyner for his 80th birthday, at the Goethe-Institut on November 1. Composers Lewis Spratlan, Scott Wheeler, Michael Gandolfi, David Liptak, and Laurie San Martin, all told of their long association with Yehudi and brought birthday greetings in the form of short musical pieces. A reference to Yehudi’s piano concerto Chiavi in mano, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 following its Boston Symphony premiere, was accompanied by an actual quote from the music. His Mad Tea Party concluded the program. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Lipkin’s Schubert Daguerreotype at Gardner Museum

Part I of “Schubert—The Late Great Sonatas” with veteran Seymour Lipkin at Boston’s Gardner Museum on November 1 very much resembled a daguerreotype. Out of brown tints also came warmth of sound, and out of the photographic process came a pianist who impressed with great distinctness. What figured into all of the playing during the unusual afternoon concert — full to the brim with listeners — might simply be called “musicality;” he could pull off the most exquisitely quiet sounds you will hear on a Steinway. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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A Fresh Take on Old Standards

On October 29, Julian Kuerti led the BSO in performances of the Beethoven  third and fourth symphonies that demonstrated just how exciting — and even somewhat peculiar — such a visit to familiar repertoire can be.

Kuerti crafted the Fourth, a symphony of joyously balkanized contrasts, in a stunning performance that gave the work the personality of a young royal on an adventurous outing. Kuerti again managed to make bigness sound light on its feet with his take on the Symphony No. 3. This time the effect was less successful; but the brilliant aura of valiance that he gave the coda made for an exhilarating close. [Click title for full review.]

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All Treats, no Tricks as BSO Beethoven Cycle Continues

Lorin Maazel took the helm at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Levine’s absence from his planned full cycle of  Beethoven symphonies for the penultimate concert on October 30. Throughout Symphony No. 6, the startlingly clear musical representations of the natural world, from trilling brook to onomatopoeic birdcalls were elucidated brilliantly by the instrumentalists. The optimistic final movement melts in one’s mouth like a creamy Halloween treat. Maazel’s conducting was quite dancelike in Symphony No. 7 . His tempo in the second movement was inappropriately rushed, and a couple of uncharacteristic clams from the brass, were the only parts of the concert that fell short. [Click title for full review] [continued]
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BCO Program with Frazin, Frautschi, Unpretentious and Intimate

Conductor Steven Lipsitt and the Boston Classical Orchestra performed a program of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and a new composition by Boston composer Howard Frazin, in Faneuil Hall on October 25. Jennifer Frautschi’s performance of Schumann’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was poignant and impassioned. The work does have its awkward moments, but reveals some interesting insights into Schumann’s compositional process. The BCO delivered on its PR claim: a relaxed, inviting form of audience interaction. Its program, was compelling, unpretentious, and… well… intimate. [Click title for full review.]

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“Every Beethoven Sonata is Important”: Pianist Till Fellner Talks about his Playing

The distinguished young Viennese pianist, Till Fellner, will be playing an all-Beethoven recital in the Piano Masters Series at Boston Conservatory of Music’s Seully Hall on November 3 at 8:00 P.M. Program details can be found under Upcoming Events. BMInt interviewed him during a lull in one of his practice sessions.

Why are you doing the complete Beethoven set? Well, the Beethoven sonatas are one of the greatest challenges for every pianist. You probably know the famous quote from Hans von Bülow, “The Well Tempered Clavier and the Beethoven sonatas are the Old Testament and the New Testament of the piano repertoire.” In the last few years, I’ve played the 48 preludes and fugues, so now it’s time to tackle the 32 Beethoven sonatas.
BMInt staff photo
Contemplating Beethoven’s Death Mask (BMInt staff photo)
Can you compare your version to others? There are two recordings of the sonatas I admire very much. One is Alfred Brendel’s most recent recording and the other is Wilhelm Kempff’s from the ’50s. Of course, I don’t want to compare myself with these great pianists, but they have been a source of much inspiration for me. Do you feel a special connection with Alfred Brendel? Are there any similar qualities to your playing?
Alfred Brendel is my most important musical influence. As a student of his, I’ve learned a lot. I would like to point out two things: First, Mr. Brendel has shown me both through his playing and teaching that the composer comes first and not the interpreter. So as a performer you should try to serve the composer. Second, Alfred Brendel has the wonderful ability to work on every detail of a piece but at the same time build the architecture. I hope that I have a similar attitude of respect for the intentions of the composer. Can you suggest things we should be listening for in your recital at Boston Conservatory? This is the fourth program in my traversal of the Beethoven sonatas. Next Tuesday’s portion gives the audience a chance to listen to some of the less well-known sonatas from various periods of Beethoven’s life. Of course we all love the famous pieces like the “Tempest” and the “Waldstein,” etc, but with a composer like Beethoven, every sonata is important. Also you will be experiencing the lyrical side of Beethoven’s music. Sometimes we only think of Beethoven’s heroic qualities, but lyricism, grace and fervent expression are equally important in his music. [continued]
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BSO and Kuerti Leap to Heights of Sight and Sound

The Beethoven Symphony Cycle at Symphony Hall continued on Tuesday, October 27, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Program 2 performing the third and fourth symphonies under the direction of the young Canadian, Julian Kuerti, now in his third season as assistant conductor. His every move, without exaggeration, could be seen and heard as springing energy, this from the very first sustained harmonies marked pianissimo of the Fourth to the final proclamations marked fortissimo of the Third. A vast range of energy and trajectory came into play, empowering the music in a way that is not easy to describe. In one such case, a crescendo headed purposefully toward a climactic point, suddenly erupted, peaking almost prematurely from much pent-up emotion. The entire symphony jumped with joy in a physics-orientation through Kuerti and the BSO. It was thrilling to witness how the Boston Symphony Orchestra was so fully engaged in this tour-de-force with Kuerti. They responded to his conducting, springing, along with him, to heights of sight and sound, the kind of which come like gifts, surprises—the most wonderful, the least expected.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Historical Bits with Dignity and Humor

Who ever in the world would dream of singing “I Love You Truly,” by Carrie Jacobs Bond, as an encore to a recital at the Longy School of Music? Longy’s “Unique Voices” series on October 24 featured Visiting Artist Thomas Meglioranza in unusual songs written around the time of World War I from Ives, Weill, Poulenc, Debussy, Sieczynski, Webern, Korngold, and Bond, plus contemporary popular songs. All were introduced with light touches of historical bits. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Another sold-out Chamber Concert, this at Gardner Museum, with Jupiter Quartet, Kalish, Taylor

Pianist Gilbert Kalish and oboist Stephen Taylor joined the Jupiter Quartet on October in a sold-out concert of Mozart, Webern, Ives, and Brahms at the Gardner Museum, under the banner of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Jupiter Quartet played all together for the first time in the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34, perhaps the most compelling and exciting performance this reviewer has ever experienced. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Good Performance by Boston Conservatory Orchestra Elicits Musings on Schoenberg, Webern, Ravel

The Boston Conservatory Orchestra’s concert at Sanders Theatre on Sunday afternoon, October 25, was one of the two or three best performances I’ve heard in 40 years from a student orchestra, ably directed by veteran conductor Bruce Hangen and a newcomer, Russell Ger. The performance of Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung showed really expert playing technique in all departments. Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht was played with fine subtlety of tempo and dynamics under Ger’s guidance. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Wonderment, Elegance from Juilliard String Quartet in Concord

The sold-out Juilliard String Quartet’s concert on October 25, put on by the Concord Chamber Music Society at Concord Academy’s Performing Arts Center, featured Schumann’s Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Davidovsky Quartet No. 5, and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D Major Op. 44, No. 1. BSO violinist Wendy Putnam, director of CCMS, continues to promote worthy new music to the audience in Concord and wider afield, as her reputation grows. This is the Julliard’s  inaugural season with its new first violinist, Nick Eanet. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Opera Boston’s Tancredi Gives Beautiful Bel Canto but Little Drama

There was bel canto in abbondanza at Opera Boston’s production of Rossini’s Tancredi at the Cutler Majestic Theater on Friday night, October 23. Amanda Forsythe as Amenaide set the bar high with a lovely soprano and impressive control of the highest pianissimos. Ewa Podles was overwhelming as Tancredi; her contralto voice is still rich, strong and agile, and the power of her low notes would make some tenors and baritones jealous. Yeghishe Manucharyan (Argirio) used his beautiful tenor to great dramatic effect, bass Dong Won Kim’s commanding vocal and physical presence was ideal for Orbazzano, and mezzo-sopranos Glorivy Arroyo and Victoria Avetisyan sang supporting parts of Roggiero and Isaura with authority and sonority. The chorus, which occupies an important role in this opera, was superb. But Opera is not only about great singing; it should also be great drama. Most of the time a singer would basically stand in place and face the audience for an aria, or what is cynically called in the business the “park and bark” approach. There was certainly no barking in this production, but a bit too much parking. This resulted in a limited range of action or reaction, and prevented the characters from establishing deep emotional connections between each other or with the audience. The tempos also tended to be on the slow side, and the dynamic range was often not wide enough. Opera at its inception was dubbed “a drama set to music,” and that is still what opera has to be. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Orpheus in England: Dowland and Purcell Shine in Boston Early Music Festival Concert

Soprano Emma Kirkby and lutenist Jakob Lindberg presented a duo recital of music by John Dowland and Henry Purcell on October 23 at the First Church  (Congregational in Cambridge.) Dowland was England’s greatest exponent of the “ayre” for solo voice with lute accompaniment, which became popular around the turn of the 16th century. Set to mostly anonymous “verses for song” with simple rhyme schemes, Dowland’s songs are more complex than most and encompass an astonishing range of emotions. This was brilliantly exploited by Kirkby, who knows how to shape a tone for expressive effect (sometimes even approaching it from the flat side), how to vary dynamics in a straight-toned delivery that never seems forced, and just where to insert a graceful ornament or variation. Playing on a beautiful 10-course Renaissance lute, ca. 1590, the “oldest lute in playable condition with its original sound board,” lutenist Jakob Lindberg supplied elegant ornamentation for the repeated strains of the famous, melancholy “Lachrimae” (Seven Teares) Pavans. The second set for lute paired an improvisatory prelude with a Fantasia in which fugal passages alternated echo effects and fast, triple-time sections. Here Lindberg’s ability to play contrapuntally with absolute clarity, no mean feat on the lute, as well as in freer styles, came brilliantly to the fore. Purcell, born 100 years after Dowland, composed innumerable songs for plays and masques, several of which we heard at Friday’s concert. Kirkby’s light and flexible voice and sure musicianship easily mastered the rapid passage work and demonstrated grotesque contrasts of affect with consummate skill. The final song, “Music for a while,” was simply beautiful, its sinuous melodic line stretched out over a long and harmonically ambiguous ground bass pattern. We are grateful to Emma Kirkby and Jakob Lindberg for their artistry and to the Boston Early Music Festival for the chance to hear this too-seldom performed repertory. The choice of performance venue, however, was unfortunate. This is true chamber music, and the vast neo-Romanesque space of the First Church did not do it justice. Lindberg’s lute often sounded muted, and much of  Kirkby’s beautifully nuanced diction was lost. That said, who would want to turn away any of the enthusiastic listeners who filled the church to capacity? [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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What Makes Mendelssohn Great?

The Celebrity Series of Boston will be presenting the Borromeo and Ariel String Quartets in  “What Makes it Great?” featuring the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major on Saturday evening, November 7, 2009 at Jordan Hall.

There’s a difference between one who is a genius and one who is precocious. One writer says that “genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains,” while another says that “a genius is someone who can do effortlessly what nobody else can do at all.” Mendelssohn has been called the “gentle genius,” who is often compared with Mozart. Mozart’s career is the more famous, perhaps, for its ups and downs, and for its unquestioned successes in opera. But Mendelssohn, as a composer, was more precocious than Mozart, in that nothing that Mozart had composed by the age of sixteen matches Mendelssohn’s achievement at the same age. Their backgrounds were different, to be sure. Mozart was schooled in hard knocks from an early age, when his loving but domineering father dragged him and his sister all over Europe to be exhibited as Wunderkinder. Much of the power of Mozart’s later style has been attributed to the inner strength he derived in breaking away from his father’s influence. Mendelssohn’s well-to-do family allowed his extraordinary talents to flourish in a more sheltered environment; indeed, when he was twelve years old, his doting parents went so far as to hire a string orchestra for him to conduct once a week. Mendelssohn amply repaid this pampering with a veritable flood of early compositions that show amazing mastery for one so young, including twelve symphonies and several concertos — not to mention that in his teens he was already an excellent pianist and soon became one of the greatest of nineteenth-century conductors. (In 1829, aged 20, Mendelssohn directed the Berlin Singakademie in an epoch-making revival, the first performance of J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion since its premiere a century earlier.) In 1825 Mendelssohn composed one of the all-time greatest works of chamber music: the Octet in E-flat major for strings. String quartet groups all over the world today relish the opportunity to join forces in performing this mighty piece. [continued]
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BSO’s Beethoven Symphony Cycle Begins with Mixed Results

The Beethoven Symphony Cycle continued on October 27, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Program 2 performing the third and fourth symphonies under the direction of Julian Kuerti, now in his third season as assistant conductor. His every move could be seen and heard as springing energy, from the very first sustained pianissimo of the Fourth to the final fortissimo of the Third. The BSO was so fully engaged in this tour-de-force with Kuerti to heights of sight and sound, the kind of which come like gifts, surprises—the most wonderful, the least expected. [Click title for full review,] [continued]
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Book Review Musical Exoticism – Images and Reflections

Book Review Musical Exoticism – Images and Reflections by Ralph P. Locke Price: $99.00 ISBN: 978-0-521-87793-0 Cloth Cambridge University Press, 421 pages with 31 b&w illustrations, index This thorough discussion of musical color and affect commonly referred to as representing “exoticism” is exhaustively researched and analyzed in this new volume by Musicology Professor Ralph P. Locke of the Eastman School of Music.  Its scholarly perspective and construct will appeal most directly to serious students of music, though there is much here that will engage any curious music lover. Professor Locke has taken on an enormous task – that of explicating and illustrating how Western composers and jazz performers have employed certain techniques to add a sense of perfume, tang, and aural otherworldliness to their music that sets it apart from the familiar and comfortable. The how and why of this makes for an engaging read, aided by well-chosen illustrations and musical examples. I confess that I hadn’t really thought too deeply about musical exoticism in the past, though I certainly thought “I knew it when I heard it.” After spending only a few minutes perusing this book before reading it closely, I was astonished with how deep and wide a subject this is. As a means of intriguing further interest in Professor Locke’s research, I’ll briefly cite several composers and a few of their obviously “exotic” works he examines: [continued]
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Yeghishe Manucharyan worth noticing in Tancredi

Excitement is building about the production of Tancredi from Opera Boston, being held tonight (October 23) and on October 25 and 27. Boston opera fans by now know Amanda Forsythe, … [continued] [continued]
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The Muir String Quartet Takes On Beethoven All At Once… Kind Of

In the spirit of continual exhibition and refashioning of Beethoven as behemoth, the Muir String Quartet played an all-Beethoven concert on Wednesday, October 21  (part 3 of an ongoing cycle of all the Beethoven quartets). The Muir carefully crafted a cycle where each concert is an encapsulation of all the stylistic periods of Beethoven without the chronology, going from the whimsical humor and classicism of his early period (No.3 in D Major, Op.18/3) with foreshadowings of irreverence and unrest; then the late period’s nostalgic meanderings into and troubling re-fashionings of older forms (Grosse Fugue in B-flat Major, op. 133) in a style that teeters between chaos and order; and lastly, a flashback into the middle period as represented by a mature and confident voice of a seasoned and troubled master whose craft (No. 7 in F Major, op. 59/1 “Rasumovsky 1”) is securely fastened together by surprising, but intentional treatments of classical form. Not to mention, any of the Rasumovskys tend to be crowd favorites (as indicated by the humming of the cello line of the first movement by at least three or four audience members in my field of hearing). In addition to this clever programming, the Muir accomplish something else: an embodiment of the group dynamics involved in collective music-making. One of the most arresting moments was where (in the second movement of the Rasumovsky) the whole quartet backed away to make room for one gentle pizzicato shortly before the movement is concluded. This was pure genius on part of the quartet. That single pizzicato, played by the first violin seemed to take the audience by complete and utter surprise. Yet there were moments where individuals were allowed to poke through — as when the haunting theme in the third of “Rasumovsky 1  appears out of the texture, and Peter Zazofsky, first violin, pulls it off deftly but without melodrama. Or, throughout the concert, when cellist Michael Reynolds cleverly negotiates between a supportive background player to a forthright foreground soloist (i.e. the notorious first movement of the Rasumovsky). Each player moves in and out of the roles created by the music with a creative flair that surprisingly, yet satisfactorily re-imagines this icon we call Beethoven. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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First Church Series Features Appealing Harpsichord Program from Sheikov

Harpsichordist Nickolai Sheikov gave the first of a new series of concerts Sunday afternoon, October 18, at First Church, Boston. Sheikov was playing on a splendid Hubbard French double harpsichord supplied for this series of Sunday afternoon concerts by Hendrik Broekman from Hubbard Harpsichords. Sheikov presented a very appealing program: Purcell’s Suite No. 6 in D Major, (Z667) to which Sheikov attached a short Ground (Z222); Handel’s Suite No. 2 in F Major; then the four duets from the Art of Fugue, strange and wondrous pieces from the late J. S. Bach.  The second half of the program focused on composers Sheikov favors: Bach and Scarlatti, of course, but also Frescobaldi and Louis Couperin. Particularly noteworthy was the performer’s improvisational way with Frescobaldi. It’s unusual to hear Louis Couperin these days, well represented by the Suite in d minor. Sheikov is an excellent harpsichordist, but it would be good if occasionally smiled. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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New Direction of Boston Chamber Music Society Well Received with Schubert, Harbison, Brahms

The first concert of the 27th season of the Boston Chamber Music Society at Sanders Theatre was attended by a large, warm, and attentive audience who braved the unseasonable snowstorm to enjoy the winds of change at Sanders on Sunday, October 18. Marcus Thompson, the long-time and much-loved member of the Society, is now at its helm. From the opening of the Schubert String Trio in B-flat Major, the strings played with an elegance and unanimity of conception that spoke of careful, thoughtful preparation. Ida Levin’s silky sound opened the piece, and the warm voices of violist Marcus Thompson and cellist Andrew Mark joined with crystalline intonation. Even the amount of vibrato was perfectly matched. The Boston premiere of John Harbison’s Piano Trio #2 (2003) followed the Schubert, and presented music of both striking contrast and similarity. Levin and Mark were joined by guest pianist David Deveau, Artistic Director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, an equally sensitive musical partner. Harbison’s musical language is totally different – spare, linear, without the conventional forms Schubert knew. But the music is immediately recognizable as emotional human interactions. Finally, the Brahms Piano Quartet in A Major, opus 26, provided a rich hot fudge sundae to follow the spare sushi. The applause and cheers were well-earned, and players and audience were fortified to return to the world of snow and wind, refreshed. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Boston Chamber Players In Fine Fettle

One of the glories of Boston’s musical life is not only the depth, but variety, of offerings. Such was the case this last weekend, when the BSO completed a round of programs on Saturday evening with Ludovic Morlot, former apprentice conductor of the BSO, brilliantly offering a program of demanding music by Martinu, Stravinsky, Thomas and Tchaikovsky. Sunday afternoon, a number of the orchestra’s players were on hand to offer music of Ervin Schulhoff, Elliott Carter, and Brahms. Schulhoff, a Czech who died in a concentration camp, should be heard more often if his Concertino for flute, viola and double bass is any indication of his music. The introspective opening, with several unison passages and an improvisatory flute melody accompanied by viola and bass immediately made the listener grateful for this combination. Edwin Barker’s superb bass playing proves that we should never take this instrument for granted, and Elizabeth Rowe and Steven Ansell were his equals; the ensemble was superb at every turn. Elliott Carter is a composer this listener has often admired more than enjoyed, but his Eight Etudes and a Fantasy won me over almost immediately. Movements three and seven were fascinating: in the third, a single triad, and in the seventh one unison note, with instruments shifting timbral combinations, in each case creating a sense of calm in the gestural sea of melody and rhythm of the other movements. Marc-Andre Hamelin, the quietly-brilliant Canadian pianist now living in Boston, joined the group for the final piece on the program, Brahms’ Piano Quintet # 3 in C minor. The brooding first movement and unusual second movement scherzo were fine enough and played beautifully, but Jules Eskin’s cello solo in the third slow movement raised the bar even further, and reaffirmed the status of this as one of Brahms most beautiful melodic output. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Borromeo Brings Bartók String Quartets to Life at Gardner

In their second consecutive appearance on October 18 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Borromeo String Quartet concluded their performance of the complete Bartók string quartets. The Borromeo delivered a performance of the highest caliber, playing with energy, sensitivity, and a level of elegance that can only be achieved by musicians with such an impeccable proficiency for 20th-century music. String Quartet No. 2 was filled with charismatic references to the music of Debussy, mixed together with the seeds of Bartók’s distinct harmonic language that becomes so cohesive in his later works. After a splendid performance of the piece, first violinist Nicholas Kitchen shared an interesting story of visiting Budapest and investigating some of Bartók’s original manuscripts, exploring different interpretations of moments in String Quartet No. 4. The first movement relies entirely on a dialogue between two musical ideas that juxtapose each other throughout the movement, often interchanging at an extremely rapid pace. The Borromeo’s performance provided the intensity necessary in such an unrestrained manner that the musical dialogue in the composition flowed freely from the ensemble. The inclination of most concert programs (as well as multi-movement works) is to end big, loud, and fast. The complete opposite is never so effective as it is String Quartet No. 6. This is one of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching pieces the 20th century has to offer. The ensemble realized it immaculately, with the kind of weight and affect that leaves you in a trance at the end of the piece, unable to applaud, for only a moment. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Peter Serkin playing Igor, premiere of Thomas Helios Choros II, highlights at BSO

The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed an exceptionally energetic program on Thursday night, October 15, under the baton of former BSO assistant conductor Ludovic Morlot. After a rough start, the BSO performed a magnificent program with nearly unremitting energetic force. The evening featured star pianist Peter Serkin in a tireless and animated performance of Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra, as well as Helios Choros II, a new work by Augusta Read Thomas co-commissioned by the BSO and the London Symphony Orchestra. The concert closed with Tchaikovsky’s Symphonic Fantasy Francesca da Rimini, which demonstrated Morlot’s ability to add momentum and life to a fairly square piece of music. The opening performance of Martinu’s The Frescoes of Piero Della Francesca began with a sense of lifelessness and lack of expressive coordination and recovered only moderately by the end of the piece. These blunders are not at all common among the BSO players. Thomas’s Helios Choros II (Sun God Dancers) lived well up to its expectations and was delivered immaculately by the orchestra and Morlot, who is no stranger to conducting contemporary music. The piece was much like walking into a room with a handful of very distinct, idiosyncratic characters having a conversation. Some are interested in what the others are saying and respond with relevant and affected musical retorts, while others are only interested and hearing themselves speak and interject arrogantly and willfully throughout the piece. Helios Choros II is the second and longest component of a three-part symphonic triptych. It would be quite a treat if the Boston Symphony Orchestra would provide the hinges for this splendid work. [Click title for full review.] [continued]
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Longy Faculty Delivers Delightful, Varied Menu of Songs

Pianist Brian Moll presided over an absolutely delightful evening of song by faculty members at Longy School of Music on Saturday, October 17. His collaborators, soprano Mara Bonde and baritone Jesse Blumberg, were stunning, with perfect intonation, diction, accent, and fantastic stage presence. Three lively Schumann duets were followed by a duet by Brahms. Blumberg’s singing of four songs of love, longing, and death by Hugo Wolf from poetry of Morike was restrained, gorgeous, and moving, one of the high points of the concert. Bonde followed with six Spanish songs by de Falla – a welcome change into almost flamenco style. The second half started with Blumberg singing the “Histoires Naturelles” of Ravel, a series of satiric prose descriptions of the curious actions of animals. Bonde then sang five short pieces by Reynaldo Hahn, unfamiliar to me, but beautiful. The last suite of duets included two by Ives, then one by Stephen Foster. The next was a lovely and moving duet by Allen Bonde, Mara’s father, a professor of composition at Mt. Holyoke College. The encore was a lively and funny rendition of “I can do anything better than you” from Annie Get Your Gun. Couldn’t have been better! [Click title for full review.] [continued]