Masterful Mendelssohn by Masterworks Chorale

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The Masterworks Chorale and its Music Director Steven Karidoyanes performed a wonderful concert at Sanders Theater on March 15 that also offered a nostalgic reminder of what home entertainment used to be, when friends would get together after work – and actually make their own entertainment by playing music. Every major composer contributed works to this genre (especially since they knew people would buy them), and Karidoyanes put together a fascinating program of three prime examples, all performed brilliantly by the Chorale and its superb orchestra. The group performed Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes (1870), in the version for chorus and orchestra; Mendelssohn’s Six Songs to be Sung in the Open Air, op. 59, sung a capella; and Mendelssohn’s youthful operatic gem, Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, op. 89, the high point of the afternoon. The Chorale sang with a rich sound and in just the right style, and the orchestra was first-class under Karidoyanes’ direction. The solo singers for Sunday’s performance were professionals, of course, and they were uniformly excellent. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BCO’s Classical Hit Parade

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Now beyond “up and coming,” the Boston Classical Orchestra performed the music of “Three composers at the top of the Classical Hit Parade” at Faneuil Hall on Sunday, March 15. Conductor Steven Lipsitt led the procession with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. I expected bold moves and incisive contrasts, or a tautness ready to unravel, or even an overall lightness bordering on the hopeful, but this Egmont seems to have functioned as the warm-up drill. Solo violinist Irina Muresanu combed through Brahms’s Violin Concerto in a demonstration of near exacting discipline and true feeling. Biting, decisive notes closer to midrange countered crystal clear notes up high on the fingerboard. Her openly communicative playing brightened up the old historic chamber. From the start of the concerto, the orchestra found itself much more in step than in the Beethoven: attacks got better, balance surfaced, a Brahmsian ambience took hold. The audience struck back with “bravo, bravo” insisting on an encore, and to their delight, yet another classical hit, Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.5. In Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” instead of the usual longer pauses between movements, conductor Lipsitt effectively marched the orchestra straight through the entire symphony with hardly a break, to an uncompromised show of splendor and polish. It was a brilliant feat – and a hit! [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Blue Heron: Artistry and Veracity in Revival of Dufay

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The unifying concept of Blue Heron Renaissance Choir’s Friday evening program on March 13, entitled “Dufay, Savoy, and the Island of Cyprus” was quite straightforward: in 1434, the King of Cyprus’s daughter went to Savoy to marry the son of the duke, a marriage that resulted in connections between multiple musical styles from different regions. The concert began with a splendid performance of Dufay’s Supremum est mortalibus bonum, followed by Isti sunt due olive. Conductor Scott Metcalfe then picked up a vielle and joined Daniela Tosic and Mark Sprinkle in the first of two works by Binchois for two or three voices in which the unbelievable blending ability of the singers shines through. The second half began with more of the haunting sonorities of works found in the Cyprus manuscript. In a mirror-like order of the first half, Blue Heron then performed selections from a Binchois Mass and closed with a few more works of Dufay’s. “The performance was magnificent,” noted Dufay scholar Alejandro Enrique Planchart, who was honored at the intermission by the Cambridge Society for Early Music. “Furthermore, this is the first performance I’ve heard of any movement of [Dufay’s Missa] Se la face ay pale at what I regard as the right tempos for that piece.” [Ciick title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cantata Singers: Well Balanced, Glorious!

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Friday the 13th (of March) brought the third Jordan Hall installment of the Cantata Singers’ season honoring the works of Benjamin Britten. The concert started with Beethoven’s delightful and seldom performed Mass in C. The solo quartet, Karyl Ryczek, Lynn Torgove, Stephen Williams, and Dana Whiteside, were exceptionally well balanced, forming a chorus of four, not independent soloists. The mass deserves more hearing; the C major is a wonderful balance for economic gloom. The orchestral suite from Britten’s opera Death in Venice, arranged by Steuart Bedford, is at times passionately mad, at times intensely longing. Special praise is due the vibraphone player, who voiced the main character, and the beautiful duets between oboe (Peggy Pearson) and flute (Jacqueline DeVoe). Lo the Full, Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi, written just after the carnage of World War Two, celebrates those who sacrifice their lives for a just cause. Finzi wanted the words to be heard, and the Cantata Singers chorus delivered. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Conductor Gilbert’s Sensitive Control Emphasizes BSO’s Music-playing

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Conductor Alan Gilbert exhibited the highest degree of sensitive control, expressiveness, good taste, and communication to the orchestra, much like his predecessors, Bernstein and Mehta, but without their ostentation and theatricality, in the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert on March 10. Gilbert chose an unusual opener to the concert, Night Ride and Sunrise by Sibelius (1907), never among Sibelius’s most popular works, and the performance was outstanding. The night ride was obvious enough, with a galoop-galoop dotted rhythm in the strings that never seemed to go anywhere and quickly became tiring. But all this diffuse rambling was swept away when the sunrise arrived in sudden and resplendent brass. Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, of all of his works for piano and orchestra, is the most grateful to play. It may not be as popular as the immortal Second Concerto, but neither is it as grandiose and bombastic. Stephen Hough has some of the finest jeu perlé and pianissimo that I have ever heard in person, and there was plenty of both in this splendid performance. Charles Ives’s Fourth Symphony is one of the 20th-century’s toughest nuts ever; as a whole it is, I think, a magnificent failure. In the baffling, defective, undeniably wonderful Fourth Symphony, we can discern the outlines, and some of the profound achievements, of one of the most visionary and multifaceted composers of all time, whose work responded as much to the transcendental vibrations of the New England microcosm as to the hidden rhythms of the universe. [Click title for full review. See also related article by DeVoto, posted on this site.]    [continued]

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Two Delights and One Disappointment

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Thursday evening, March 12, Herbert Blomstedt conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in performances of the Nielsen’s “Helios” overture, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, with pianist Richard Goode, and Brahm’s Symphony No 4. The first two pieces were new to me, and welcome. Nielsen manages to pack the glory of a sun-filled day into 10 minutes of music, and the orchestra played with verve – clearly excited by the piece. The Mozart was an equal pleasure; the smaller orchestra played with precision and attention to detail The second movement in G minor was the heart of the piece, a lament for times and loves lost. Richard Goode played with great expressiveness, sometimes barely audible over the orchestra. The Brahms was well played – but ultimately disappointing. The performance rose to the heights of this music, but mostly failed to probe the depths. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Constant Communication: The Muir Quartet with Menahem Pressler

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Once again, the editor feels called upon to bring to readers of The Boston Musical Intelligencer a concert that would otherwise not have been noted here. What a pity that would have been. Watching pianist Menahem Pressler smiling benignly, turning to cue the various members of the Muir Quartet as they played the Brahms Quintet in F minor, op. 34, was one of the singular delights of the concert put on by the Concord Chamber Music Society on March 8. The communication was electric, the intonation and phrasing, breath-taking. Another delight of the concert was Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff. The five movements played on different musical motifs – waltz, serenade, Czech folk dance, tango, and tarantella – with readily identifiable antecedents. But the most striking element of this fine performance was its light-footed feeling. At the same time, the music is hardly fluff; it has a quirky intellectual development and catchy dissonance, sometimes poignant. The Muir Quartet and Pressler played their hearts out. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Full Radius of Color and Expression

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In existence for a decade, Radius, one of Boston’s finest music ensembles continued its 2008-09 concert season at Killian Hall on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Saturday March 7. Three pieces—Fuga e Misterio, Oblivion and Libertango—by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla arranged for winds by Jeff Scott, were expertly played by each performer; however, with neither the bandoneón nor the jazz-type ensemble characteristic of Piazzola’s performances, some of the taste of tango and Argentina got lost in translation. Shrill fanfares in the high piano register announced vast wreckage and destruction in Sophia Gubaidulina’s Quasi hoquetus. With passages that outline distinct shapes, blocks, lines, solids, and the like, one can imagine the music emanating from the likes of a Kandinsky. Described as one kind of culinary delight or another in both pre-concert and concert remarks, Aria, by 20th century French composer Jacque Ibert, completely changed the program’s direction—once again! Call, a pièce de résistance, light, pleasant, tasty. Radius concluded it with String Quintet No.1, op. 88 by Johannes Brahms. Each of the five instruments’ personalities could be seen through a range of physical expressions from the dynamic to the restrained. All, though, were entirely on the same page. Hooray for this daring programming here in Boston. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Lowell House’s Tragedy Otello A Triumph

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The longest-running opera company in New England – Harvard University’s Lowell House Opera – presented Verdi’s Otello to a sold-out crowd at its black-tie opening on March 4. It is difficult to fathom how a student-run opera company can consistently produce serious operas at a high artistic level – but they do. The real star of the performance was the orchestra, lead with great skill by Channing Yu. It is one thing to see a great opera like Otello played to an audience of 3,000 in a large theater, where the average seating distance is more than 100 feet. It is quite another to have a more than adequate orchestra and some excellent singers right in your face. The intensity of the drama was often too much for me. I had to shut my eyes and just listen to the music. A great night at the opera! I can’t wait to see what they will do next year. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Compositional Demands of the Late Beethoven String Quartets Admirably Met by the Borromeo

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To get to listen to all three of Beethoven’s late string quartets played by a top-notch ensemble like the Borromeo, for free, comes close to the opportunity of a lifetime. It takes an ensemble of exceptional caliber to realize that tonal potential to the full. The Borromeo Quartet, in Jordan Hall on March 3, demonstrated that they are up to the job. Opus 132, in a minor began somewhat inauspiciously. Facing the profound andante of the third movement, however, the quartet sprang to life, with the allegro appassionato finale rising to a climax that left hearts—this time those of the audience—soaring. With its arching structure, Opus 131, in c-sharp minor calls for everything from the tightest integration of line, often piano, to the broadest and brashest expressionism, sometimes forte. In both technique and sensibility, the Borromeo matched Beethoven’s every demand. After intermission and turning to the middle of the three pieces, Opus 130 in B-flat major, the performers strangely seemed to fall back into the slight funk with which the program began. Perhaps part of the fault lies with Beethoven himself. By the section alla danza tedesca, the music had begun to fall together. Happily, the players chose to end the whole with Beethoven’s original finale, his Grosse Fuge, a composition of overwhelming dimensions for both players and audience. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Collage Offers Bold Gestures, Hints of Opera, and a Knockout

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Collage New Music capped off its season on March 2 in a concert displaying precision and attentiveness to the demands of each piece. Donald Crockett’s for solo piano was made primarily of bold gestures. Catherine French’s silky tone complemented the rhapsodic writing that emerged in the middle movement of Andrew Imbrie’s Chicago Bells. Christopher Oldfather’s accompaniment for the two songs in Tobia Picker’s Rain in the Trees pointed at much vaster instrumentation. Picker’sThe Blue Hula brought the entire Collage group together (Pierrot plus percussion). It was a “fun” piece, highlighting virtuosic ensemble playing. David Rakowski’s Phillis Levin Songs (the premiere) were really a knockout, nimbly conjuring forest scenes, subatomic reactions, snowfall, and other snapshot moments. Another Pilgrimage, this one by Imbrie, cast the group as a bunch of boisterous characters (not unlike what Elliott Carter might do) pushing past each other towards the pearly gates. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Nézet-Séguin and Thibaudet at the BSO: Less Familiar Warhorses

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Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s program at this week’s (Feb. 27) concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was well chosen for orchestral brilliance, and the Symphony supported him fully. The works were the less-often-heard warhorses of the crowd-pleasing type. Nézet-Séguin is obviously a conductor with style as well as sensitivity, yet I did not enjoy watching his platform manner. I often wonder whether Ravel really did want to orchestrate his Valses nobles et sentimentales, one of the great piano works of the last century and one of the most sensitively written. The biggest problem is that the entire orchestral conception is too large. Ravel deliberately spiced up the harmony, and the result was a harmony that simply became crushing, which is too bad, because the pattern of chromatic sequences in this piece is wonderful in the piano version. Jean-Yves Thibaudet was a scintillating performer in Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in A majo that showcased his skill so effectively. His upper-register jeu perlé was especially fine, and there is a lot of it in this work; his double octaves were fearless. It seems a more episodic, fragmented piece, with themes that are less obtrusive and more hidden underneath the pianistic fireworks; yet it moves forward effectively, and the cadenzas don’t impede the drama, The return of the main theme comes within a hairbreadth of sounding silly; this might be Liszt’s gesture of Hungarian nationalist defiance. Dvorák seems to have paid greater tribute to his friend Brahms in his Symphony No. 6. Most of all, though, the Sixth has a stronger and more spacious lyricism than any of the later symphonies. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Celtic Excursions at the Newton Symphony

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With the diversity of styles represented, and some fine performances by featured soloists Susan Robinson and Joseph Scheer, the Newton Symphony Orchestra (on March 1)again exceeds expectations for community orchestras in the Boston area. Hector Berlioz’s Rob Roy Overture was remarkably dynamic and teeming with energy, though at times dissatisfying in rhythmic precision. The real treat was William Alwyn’s Lyra Angelica for harp and strings. The performance of the Adagio was utterly beautiful, showcasing the masterfully gripping technique of featured harp soloist Susan Robinson over an atmosphere of eerie string melodies. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Fifth Irish Rhapsody, featured many moments of chamber-like, stripped-down orchestration. Even in the fully orchestrated moments, the orchestra possessed the precision and rhythmic drive that was lacking in the Berlioz. In my opinion, the inclusion of John William’s Suite from Far and Away was a programming blunder. The ensemble performed the music accurately and with conviction, though I’d wager even the performers had trouble keeping recollections of Tom Cruise’s ridiculous Irish accent out of their minds during the performance. Saved for last was the most substantial work, Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy; it returned harpist Susan Robinson to the stage, along with featured violinist Joseph Scheer, in a performance extremely well handled by the conductor, orchestra, and soloists alike. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Liszt’s Virtuoso Playing Lives on in Lang Lang

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Lang Lang’s Celebrity Series of Boston recital at Symphony Hall on March 1 was a reassuring reminder that the glorious tradition of virtuoso piano playing is alive and well today. Lang Lang has sometimes been accused of being a mere empty-headed technician. The Schubert Sonata in A Major proved them wrong. His grasp of the structural and formal elements of this sonata, and the characters of each movement would have made a Ph.D. in Music Theory happy. Bartók’s Piano Sonata is a percussive and extroverted work, and Lang Lang played it in the style it demanded. The selections from the two books of Debussy’s Préludes that followed were played with a painterly hand. The technical demands of Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major, “Héroique.” this old, wonderful warhorse, are formidable. Lang Lang dispatched these with ease, and aplomb. In 1874, the music critic Edward Hanslick described a recital by Liszt: “his face… his head thrown back… head, eyes and sometimes even a helping hand, maintain constant communication with… the audience.” Hanslick could just as easily have been writing about Lang Lang. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Claire Huangci Plays Pickman Hall

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The young and promising Claire Huangci – a pianist possessing, according to one pundit, “the fastest fingers in the world” -played on February 28 at the Longy School of Music, Cambridge. Bach’s Toccata in C minor BWV 911 found unusual nurturing at the hands of this newcomer. More pianism than usually heard came through the remarkable choices and placements of her crescendos and diminuendos. Pedaling, staccato playing, and absolutely clear touch brought about a dazzling Bach. Both higher speeds and greater power materialized in Claire Huangci’s performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. Much of the darkness of this piece became tinged with light. In the first movement, the hopeful pianist redirected minor triads, with their brooding tendencies, toward hopeful, assuring expression. The last movement signaled this youth’s exceptionally deep engagement not only with the instrument but with the soul of one of music’s most venerated composers of all times. Ms. Huangci’s vision of Chopin’s third sonata followed somewhat along that of the Bach and Beethoven. In Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet and orchestral gem, The Nutcracker, Ms. Huangci really did make us believe that we were hearing trumpets in the March, the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy-this “imitation” the most unbelievable-and harps in Pas de Deux. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Opera Boston Knows its Nose

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On February 27, at the Cutler Majestic Theater, Opera Boston executed one of the most daring acts of operatic programming one is likely to see in the United States these days. The Nose, by Dmitri Shostakovich, premiered in 1930, reflects the creative mind of a brilliant young artist wanting to burst out of convention, take the compositional bull by the balls, and hurl it about over his head as it bellows out hyper-carnivalistic dances, bizarrely pointillistic fugatos, darkly poignant airs, and goofishly militaristic marches. It is a bear of a challenge for singers and instrumentalists alike; conductor Gil Rose seemed very concerned with keeping the wildness of the music reigned in, an understandable impulse considering how easily it could all just bolt unchecked out of the stall. However, that frenetic verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown energy is what gives the work much of its personality, and losing it cramped some of the colorfully jittering impulses inherent in the music. On the other hand, Rose’s mastery of the score resulted in nearly flawless playing and balance in the orchestra and provided a solid ground for the singers to keep control while allowing their vocal skills to shine. Although the acting often seemed somewhat stilted, most of the singing, even down to the chorus, was impressive. Stephen Salters milked every emotional nuance possible from the role of the nose-less Kovalyov. He was able to color his strong and velvety voice with comically tragic shades, giving the character a hilarious desperation that made it quite clear the nose is really a metaphor for a different, uniquely male body part. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Eight Commissioned Works for Women’s Vocal Ensemble Take on Social Protest

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Anthology, an all-female vocal quartet, took the daring path of commissioning eight new works for the concert on the theme of “Songs of Protest and Social Unrest.” Composer Ivana Lisak chose to set a powerful text by Carl Sandburg, entitled Killers. The homo-rhythmic minimalism of Michael J. Veloso’s List, a recitation of the names of the Hollywood Ten, a group of men persecuted for their refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, evoked a medieval meditative quality. His Processing drew on an operations manual from a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay. Erin Huelskamp’s A Protest proved the most memorable and startlingly revelatory work of the evening. Her choice was a Victorian-era poem by Arthur Hugh Clough. The anxiety expressed by a woman who rises to speak her opinion before a hostile assembly unfolds haltingly and in overlapping waves of forward motion, then hesitation. Speech-like declamations spar with sung comments, electrifying the psychological battle. Eva Kendrick’s moving setting of Joan Lavender Guthrie’s To D.R. in Holloway brought the work of this little-known poet to light and reminded us of the struggle for women’s suffrage. It also gave soprano Anney Gillotte a spirited and gospel-inflected cadenza; all the singing here, as elsewhere was exhilarating. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Bird Songs Old and New

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John McDonald, composer and pianist at Tufts University, has nurtured and promoted a generation of student composers while composing and performing literally hundreds of new works of his own and organizing performances for dozens of Boston-area composers. The Mockingbird Trio paid tribute on February 26 to five years’ good feeling with some fine old songs and piano pieces, songs premiered previously, and two new works of major proportions. Howard Frazin was on hand to hear his song “The Wren,” on a text by Denise Levertov, a tribute to the poet who taught for several years at Tufts. Levertov’s work also provided the text for McDonald’s song “The Mockingbird of Mockingbirds.” A Field Guide to Backyard Birds, a cycle of six songs on her own texts by Francine Trester. showed an abundance of expressive tonal harmony, sometimes sounding like Barber, or Copland, or even Gershwin, but colored with a bittersweet chromaticism that was Trester’s own. Another new work by McDonald written for the trio, From the Fall of a Sparrow, ” contains an ecological envoi that may be ominous: “The sparrow is the new canary.” The concert continued with outdoor songs by Brahms and Schubert and finally Mahler’s Lob des hohen Verstandes from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The ornithological motif was triumphant to the end in this memorable comedy about the competition between the cuckoo and the nightingale, refereed by the donkey. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Spirit of Shostakovich at Sanders Theater

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Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G major with Harumi Rhodes, violin and Mark Holloway, viola, was finely tuned and professionally polished, but how much more enjoyment could there have been had the two showed us the communicative joy of music-making between two stringed instruments? Violinists Ida Levin and Harumi Rhodes, violist Mark Holloway, cellist Ronald Thomas, and pianist Randall Hodgkinson reached out and made contact, helping us feel the ambivalence of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor. By the third movement there was no denying the power these interpreters held, especially Levin and Hodgkinson. Both kept sparking the quintet, Levin through intense emotion and Hodgkinson through deep conviction. Levin’s playing was positively beautiful in the Intermezzo. Sometimes moving, sometimes predictable were the contrasts, buildups to climaxes, and other shifts that make for Beethovenian drama. in his “Archduke trio.” However, there was so much attention to detail that one felt the overall flow was somewhat hindered. On Sunday night, the spirit of Shostakovich inhabited Sanders Theatre through the power of the Boston Music Chamber Society. Mozart and Beethoven never noticeably fell short of high performance art. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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More Praise to Levine for “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy”

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy” continued last week with the second program, featuring several Salzburg-era works. Aside from the horn playing, this was orchestral music making of the highest order, and the horns in all fairness did settle down and into the music after the first movement of the rather rudimentary Symphony No. 19. The flutes and strings were ravishing in the second movement of Symphony No. 20, as Levine insisted on soft dynamics and coaxed some sublimely shaped phrases. Symphony No. 21 in A made little impression on this listener in spite of an outstanding performance, and pride of place went to the Symphony No. 25 as the concluding work. Levine nearly leapt out of his chair for this piece, and the orchestra responded in kind. There will be strong opinions on either side of Levine’s choice of three consecutive programs of Mozart Symphonies, but Boston is blessed to have this astounding genius, and it is good news that he has signed another five-year contract. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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A Tale of Two Concertos: The Worlds of Emotion and Politics

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There were two concertos on the program of the Boston Philharmonic at Jordan Hall this past Saturday, but they couldn’t have been more different, though both were written in the 20th century. I wish I could have added the performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 by Gabriela Montero and the Boston Philharmonic to my list of favorites, but a number of crucial elements were not quite there, at least on this evening. Ms. Montero is a great pianist. What was missing for this Rachmaninoff fan, however, was some heart-on-your sleeve emotion (schmaltz, if you will), a flexible tempo, and poetic gestures. Concerto for Orchestra by the Wiltold Lutoslawski, composed in the 1950s, belongs to an entirely different world. For one thing, Lutoslawski set out to exploit the virtuosity not of a soloist, but rather that of the 20th-century orchestra. The Concerto is also a product of the current political history, and it is not a pretty story. Lutoslawski paid homage to another 1948 victim of a repressive Soviet regime–Dimitri Shostakovich–by interweaving the notes to spell out DSCH, Shostakovich’s musical signature. The members of the Boston Philharmonic under Music Director and Conductor Benjamin Zander played their virtuosic concerto with a level of enthusiasm, commitment and skill that made the performance of this important work memorable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Angela Hewitt: A Real Discovery

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In a world of piano playing where velocity and force prevail, it is beyond pleasure to discover a player with old-fashioned musical values, one who considers the instrument a vehicle for poetry, not an instrument of sheer virtuosic display. With Angela Hewitt at the keys, it is easy to focus on the music and, indeed, life itself. The concert was held at Jordan Hall on February 22, part of the Celebrity Series’s Aaron Richmond Recitals. She brought a probing, reflective sense to JS Bach’s English Suite in D minor. In the Beethoven Sonata in F Major, op. 10, she soared from the very first phrase. Given the brilliance and depth with which Ms. Hewitt dispensed two Fauré Valse-caprices, op. 30 and op. 38, substantial, challenging works, it is surprising they are not heard more often. Despite the variety in mood among the six movements of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, Ms. Hewitt framed the overall arch in an especially unifying manner and with such lavish coloring as to challenge Ravel’s own orchestration: would it really have been more satisfying? [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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The Maestro and Mozart: Cohesive, Lucid, Refreshing

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final triad of symphonies are a tour de force of the Classical symphonic genre. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Maestro James Levine elected to take listeners on an auditory tour of these masterpieces in the last of three recent concerts dedicated to the exploration of Mozart’s symphonic output. I attended the Friday afternoon concert on February 20. His big-picture style of conducting was evident in the strikingly cohesive sound and structural lucidity of the music. Refreshing to hear these oft-performed pieces played with an almost preternatural clarity. From the first note of the first, No. 39, it was evident that concertgoers were in for a joyful ride. Tempi were brisk; the playing highly charged. One of only two Mozart symphonies in a minor key, the 40th is a rich work; it features driving rhythms that propel the music forward. Levine was extremely adept at accentuating this propulsive quality. In the lush and expressive second movement, the birdcalls of the woodwinds were accompanied by the susurrations of some unfortunate audience member’s oxygen tank. Alas, the tank was consistently behind the beat. Mozart’s final symphony, No. 41, apparently posthumously nicknamed ‘Jupiter’ by music impresario Johann Salomon, is a powerful work that lives up to its sobriquet. The Boston Symphony is in rare form these days. They seem to exude passion and enthusiasm. The streamlined version of conductor James Levine is bursting with energy and the caliber of play is unparalleled. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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“Saxtravaganza” with Radnofsky and Friends Showcases Saxophone’s Varied Possibilities

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Kenneth Radnofsky of the New England Conservatory plays the classical saxophone more beautifully, in this writer’s opinion, than anyone else in the world, though he had some heartwarming competition from some of his students at the fascinating “Saxtravaganza” in Jordan Hall on February 17. Copland’s Quiet City (1940) was heard in a “concert adaptation” by Christopher Brellochs, in which the saxophone substituted for the English horn. The saxophone’s tone blended extremely well with the other instruments — clarinet, trumpet, and piano — perhaps even more effectively than the English horn would have in this small grouping. Harold Shapero’s Saxophone Quartet, originally his String Quartet of 1941, was adapted by Pasquale Tassone with Shapero’s advice and blessing. The grouping of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes has been tried by many different composers, but success always hinges on a good performance, and this one, by the NEC Quadrivium Saxophone Quartet, was really excellent. Gil Shohat’s Quintet for saxophone and string quartet (2008) met with only mixed success. Yuan, a saxophone quartet (2008) by Lei Liang, was a relentless study in savage timbres with a full arsenal of avant-garde techniques. [Check title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fine singers, Clever Orchestration, in Handel’s Alcina from Boston Opera Collaborative

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Three-year-old Boston Opera Collaborative is offering Handel’s Alcina with a new production at Massachusetts College of Art, through February 15. The story of Alcina, after Orlando Furioso, is one of those preposterous Baroque plots difficult to summarize or even to remember. Despite this production’s lively stage direction by Andrew Ryker, the best thing to do is to forget the plot and sit back and enjoy the glorious music. This is a treble-voice show, clothed here in 1920s garb. Conducting from the harpsichord, Music Director Paul Cienniwa’s music pacing throughout was expert. He cleverly used violins for instruments that had to be cut from the orchestra, due to budgetary cuts. Each act ended with a touch of Yo-el Cassell’s effective choreography for five dancers. Lead singers Leah Hungerford, Emily Burr, Kristina Riegle, and Brooke Larimer, and all were excellent, especially in Alcina’s anguished lament “Ah! mio cor,” Bradamante’s revenge aria, and Ruggiero’s angry aria, “Sta nell’ircana.” [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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