Early, Merciful Visit To St. Nicholas

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Masterworks Chorale presented a program of mostly British works in honor of St. Nicholas on Sunday, November 8 in Sanders Theater in Cambridge, though mercifully none of these works had to do with Father Christmas. Conductor Steven Karidoyanes’s “Nicholas, Holy Hierarch,” was mellifluous, prosodically apt. “Apolytikion for Saint Nicholas” by Sir John Tavener, begins with a high drone for women against a continuous melody beginning in unison and ending in a shimmering, rich harmonization. “Hymn to Saint Nicholas,” an a cappella work by Ivan Moody written for the KotorArt Festival in Kotor, Montenegro, builds an almost Ligeti-like density of polyphonic strands and demonstrates a great gift for choral writing. The main course at this particular feast of St. Nicholas was the dramatic cantata “Saint Nicolas” by Britten. Karidoyanes led his forces with precision and panache. The orchestral forces, all top-flight Boston freelancers, were also in fine voice and responsive to the music and Karidoyanes’s lead. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Camerata, Harvard Choir Honor Calvin with Symphony of Psalms

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Anne Azema showed her skills in a concert at Memorial Church on Sunday, November 8, with singers and musicians of the Boston Camerata and the Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir. The concert started with a Hebrew Cantilation (Psalm 25) performed by voice and harp, followed by Ms. Azema singing from the audience. Gradually voices and instruments were added until the whole audience participated in Dowland’s setting of Psalm 100, a glorious hymn of praise. “Lobet den Herrn” (Psalm 130) by Schutz, with the marriage of vernacular text, melody and harmony, uplifts the soul – even of this hardened non-believer. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Five Musicians from Marlboro in Amazing Mozart and Messiaen

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Musicians from Marlboro were at the Gardner Museum on Sunday, November 7. Flutist Joshua Smith, violinist Soovin Kim, violist Beth Guterman and cellist Michal Korman gave a spunky, teasing performance of the Mozart Flute Quartet in C Major. Amazing sounds came from the flute and cello in Mirrors by Kaija Saariaho. Shades of Debussy, Messiaen and nature appeared in A Bird Came Down the Walk by Takemitsu. Beth Guterman’s viola and Renana Gutman’s piano avoided poetic images heard in other performances. The performance of the Messiaen Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus was out of this world. A rigid interpretation lacking emotion and expression was all I could sense in Piano Quartet in C minor by Brahms. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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“What Makes it Great” with Borromeo and Ariel Quartets was Absolutely Great

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A large gathering at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall was on hand Saturday evening, November 7, as Robert Kapilow joined forces with the Borromeo and Ariel String Quartets in an installment of his What Makes It Great? series, now in its thirteenth season. Following our hour-long “class,” we were treated to an uninterrupted performance of the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major, op. 20. I heard the different themes! I heard the inversions! I heard the dissonance…! And on and on. Quite a bit of Kapilow’s analysis actually sunk in. In combination with the brilliant Borromeo-Ariel realization, I found his high-octane, highly entertaining, eminently quotable, erudite-yet-accessible analysis to be invaluable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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“Returns and Farewells” at the H&H

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For the Handel & Haydn Society concert at Symphony Hall on Friday, November  6, Jane Glover chose to conduct four of the orchestral interludes from Mozart’s Thamos, King of Egypt, his only incidental music. Her tempi were sprightly, the music clear and crisp, the orchestra following all the double-fortes and pianissimos and verbal cues written into the score to reflect the melodrama of the play — the overall feeling very much in the spirit of a Handelian overture. Robert Levin returned, as he has several times since 1990, to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 (K. 467). As he remarked in the session that followed the concert, about 45% of his performance was improvised. He played during all the tutti sections and contributed his own exceedingly florid cadenzas that rumbled in the fortepiano’s bass. His rapid scale passages were played with an emphatically legato touch that made real arias rise and fall. In the Andante second movement these phrases were particularly stretched out and melodic, using a rubato that was almost over the top, but in the end, just right. The program ended with Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony. Combine the intimacy of this group, among whom are some of Boston’s finest soloists, with direction by Ms. Glover, and the music-making is guaranteed to be not only satisfying, but memorable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Efficient production of Carmen at the Shubert

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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

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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

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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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Fliter’s Jordan Hall Debut Technically Brilliant, Short on Songfulness

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.]    [continued]

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All Treats, no Tricks as BSO Beethoven Cycle Continues

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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

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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.]    [continued]

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BSO and Kuerti Leap to Heights of Sight and Sound

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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BSO’s Beethoven Symphony Cycle Begins with Mixed Results

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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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The Muir String Quartet Takes On Beethoven All At Once… Kind Of

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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

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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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