Finding Chi at the Gardner

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Pianist Katherine Chi appeared at the Gardner Museum on Sunday April 26 with a different kind of line up. A refreshing one at that, it included the stoic to the grandiose-Boulez to Busoni. Sonata No. 1, by a 19-year-old Pierre Boulez, is not something you often bump into at concerts these days in Boston. Chi did a fairly good job of it. Pointillism, not gesture, dominated Chi’s approach, a static state emerging instead of one more forward-moving. Ferruccio Busoni’s Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, probably just as rarely heard these days as Boulez, allowed Katherine Chi to really show her stuff: high-speed arpeggios, even higher-speed cascades of handfuls of sounds over the extent of the keyboard. Three short pieces commemorating the death of Haydn that were composed 100 years after his death in 1809, Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn, Reynaldo Hahn’s Thème Varié sur le nom Haydn, and Debussy’s Hommage à Haydn could well have been a first for most Boston concertgoers. Chi was most at home with Hahn, moderating the volume just right. Both Ravel and Debussy were given gorgeous surfaces, except for some notes punched out. Of the three, it is the imitative nod to Haydn that flows so naturally into the irresistible sonorous universe of Ravel that truly leaves one in wonderment. In Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90 by Beethoven, Chi’s is a strong sound but not a full one. Between the very loud and very soft there were few gradations. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Oddball Program, Communal Group

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The most interesting thing about the New England Philharmonic’s last concert of the season, at BU’s Tsai Performance Center on April 25, was the group itself. The group’s attitude is casual, but not to the detriment of any professionalism. The overall effect is of greater community and intimacy than one often gets from orchestral music. The selections were anything but stale, but it was hard to tell why they shared the bill. Henri Dutilleux’s L’arbe des songes, is certifiably French. This was a violin concerto (Danielle Maddon played with the appropriate voluptuousness and ease), tracing the titular tree from its roots to a full flowering. The most involved piece was a commission from Peter Child, Louisa’s War, with chorus and narrator (Joyce Kulhawik). The piece ends with Louisa describing a victory parade after the war: “Saw the great procession, and though colored men were in it, one was walking arm in arm with a white gentleman and I exulted thereat.” The note says this is an “ambivalent” moment with a backdrop of “controlled chaos” related to “Louisa’s diseased delirium.” Unfortunately, the music at this point sounded too much like an Ivesian populist victory for this ambivalence to come through. Against the text, it came off as an unearned climax. After intermission came Dvorák’s 8th Symphony (an oddball in a program of oddballs). Pittman drew out the less tried-and-true aspects of the music, playful phrasings and rhythmic quirks, giving freshness to the composer’s work. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Eva León in Strong Debut With BCO

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Boston Classical Orchestra presented a delightful selection of early Romantic works in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall on Saturday, April 18, 2009. Violinist Eva León, a native of Spain’s Canary Islands, made her Boston debut as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Her interpretation of this virtuoso showpiece was free of elaborate ornamentation and emphasized playful contrasts of articulation. The simple recitativo accompaniment in the center of the first movement recalled Mendelssohn’s interest in and revival of Bach’s orchestral works. This simple halo of sound, recalling Bach’s recitatives for Jesus in his Passions, showcased Ms. León’s strengths as a recitalist After playing a supporting role in the first half of the concert, the woodwind choir emerged in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, with a vibrant, warm sound that focused the timbre and power of the ensemble. The French horns and rotary-valve trumpets blended masterfully through this work, evoking a Viennese serenade in the second movement and an Austrian Ländler in the third. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cellist Natalia Gutman and the Boston Philharmonic: Prokofiev and Brahms at their Best

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Under the baton of Benjamin Zander, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra presented two masterpieces: Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125, featuring Russian cellist Natalia Gutman, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73, on Thursday, April 23 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre. Gutman confidently led the BPO through the wild ride of Prokofiev’s cello masterpiece. After a couple of shaky interactions, with the orchestra hurrying to maintain pace with the cello at the beginning of the Andante, they both settled into a moving rendition of the movement. Gutman proved her mastery of the entire range of the cello (in the Andante, the cello part covers more than four octaves), especially when handling runs of double-stopped notes with ease. Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1877) spotlighted many talented members of the orchestra, in addition to illustrating the orchestra’s ability to work together in producing swells of sound, exhibiting rhythmic control and distinct articulation – especially through their precise accents and seamless phrasing. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Who is Victor Goldberg?

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Pro Musicis presented Victor Goldberg, one of four young pianists to win its 2008 Pro Musicis International Award, at Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music, on Saturday, April 18th. The softest of trills and sudden surprises all seemed effortlessly induced in Scarlatti’s familiar Sonata in E major. Longy’s brand new Steinway D piano, which has only just started getting broken in, really underwent serious testing with Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel. Goldberg exposed a considerable range of the high-performance instrument’s assets. It has been quite a while since Haydn’s historically significant and much praised Andante and Variations in F minor has been heard in concerts around the town. Goldberg came close to making real the sobbing and elation Haydn inventively composed around a minor/major key scheme. From the natural to the mystical, Goldberg chose another gem, Scriabin’s Sonata no. 5 in f sharp major. The exuberance of the audience was met with the unassuming pianist’s pianistic and poetic wonder from his Tchaikovsky’s, October: Autumn Song from “The Seasons” and Chopin’s Marche Militaire. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fine Choices by Pianist Bempéchat for Haydn, Schubert Program

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Some of the most poorly-advertised concerts turn out to be among the best. The recital on April 17 at the Pusey Room of Harvard’s Memorial Church had an audience of 11, but they were richly rewarded by pianist and musicologist Paul-André Bempéchat. Bempéchat’s program consisted of two sonatas by Haydn, Sonata no. 33 in C minor and Sonata no. 58 in C major, and one by Schubert, the great Sonata in B-flat major. Few of Haydn’s sonatas are in the minor mode, but this first one on the program, in three movements, was full of engaging drama and a seemingly endless supply of surprises, especially in the finale. The two sonatas fit together perfectly, and Bempéchat’s playing of was at every moment solidly assertive, crisp, and full of joy. What Schumann referred to as “heavenly length” in Schubert’s last works is also a kind of unearthly peace. Bempéchat’s deeply felt performance was beyond words. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BSO Guest Artist Substitutions Keep Program of Beethoven, Mahler

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Newcomer guest artists to the BSO on April 16 and 17 highlighted a program taken up with the concerto and symphony, two of classical music’s most revered and fruitful creations. Violinist Isabelle Faust took us inside of Beethoven’s clearly contoured Violin Concerto in D Major. Her choice of cadenza for the first movement, a version of the one written by Beethoven that includes a tympani part, and her decision not to end the second movement with a cadenza but rather start up the third movement with several “false starts” lent still more veracity to her performance of this immense composition. In her Boston debut, soprano Juliane Banse captured Mahler’s “worldly tumult” in his far-flying Symphony No. 4. Hers is a voice that really means something as it changes color, vibrato, strength and emotion, always maneuvering adroitly around text and melody. Unfortunately, Wigglesworth allowed the orchestra to overpower her voice up to the closing section where sublime singing and playing emerged. Throughout a good part of the symphony an imbalance of orchestral sound loomed, brass over winds, winds over strings-and at certain instances, solo blasts seemed inspired by Heavy Metal. decibel levels. Too often, Mahler’s keen multitasking passages were turned into faint blocks of sound. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Peter Serkin and Longy’s New Steinway

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Peter Serkin opened his program at the Longy School of Music Saturday night, April 11th with a piece by John Bull, Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. Serkin led the ear through an immaculately voiced polyphony. It was wonderful to be able to follow the notes throughout his playing. His touch in Debussy’s Six Epigraphes Antiques was as finely tuned as it will ever get – no exaggeration. There was a monochromatic effect overall in Bach’s Suite in C minor BWV 997; finding enough crispness, or staccatos-a pluck-for contrast to the prevailing smoothness of the legato became futile. In Variations and Fugue in B-flat on a Theme by Handel, Op. 23 by Brahms, transparency shone through nearly every variation, several were over-pedaled, the last was not clear. The fugue began with some brilliance but thereafter sameness again emerged. The climactic final cadence did not materialize. Three encores followed. He opened up, let fun in and the audience loved it. A promising program and promising piano can also be remembered as an evening of technical wizardry and hypnotic abstractionism, hearkening back to the ’50s and ’60s. If your taste is for the intellectual, you might well have been spellbound. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Choral Nirvana from The Tallis Scholars

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The acoustically-sympathetic St Paul’s Church, Cambridge, is a perfect venue for the Tallis Scholars. The thesis of its fascinating program on April 3 was the connection between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque music, a point made vividly, compellingly, and with great intelligence and insight. There were moments of surpassing beauty: in the “Benedictus” of the Lassus Mass Missa Bel’Amfitrit’altera. The sound of the three second choirmen was as sublime and hushed as I can imagine any choral singing could be, and the second tenor, Simon Wall, brought the same sense of radiance to the Psalm tones of the concluding work on the program, a Magnificat of Heironymous Praetorius. Two discoveries for this listener were the Lamentations of Alonso Lobo, and Nesciens Mater by Jean Mouton, two pieces meant to be sung together, and made fascinating, as the program put it, by “stunning effects of canonic virtuosity.” [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Dyno Duo: Innovative Pairing Yields Incredible Results

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The Dyno Duo, Diane Heffner and Katherine Matasy, illustrated the intricacy and integrity of works employing multiple clarinets and accordion in a concert last Sunday, April 5, sponsored by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble at the Community Music Center of Boston. Consisting of music by Judith Weir, Guy Klucevsek, Joan Tower, and premieres of commissioned pieces by Lansing McLoskey and John Howell Morrison (both in attendance), this night proved to be one of the most exceptional and inspiring concerts I have ever attended. Weir’s Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (1984) with Matasy on the clarinet and Yvonne Lee on the piano, was followed by Matasy performing Klucevsek’s solo accordion piece, Loosening Up the Queen (1987. Concluding the first half was a complicated piece by Tower, Fantasy (…those harbor lights) (1983), with Diane Heffner on clarinet and Lee again accompanying on the piano. They shone through their careful handling of virtuosic solo passages of “fantasy” music. John Howell Morrison, in Ember (2009), a work for multiple clarinets and accordion commissioned by the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, experiments with the use of physical space, varying combinations of instruments, and essentially static musical lines, in addition to applying concepts of the I Ching hexagram. The intimate nature of the hall coupled with the deft skill of the musicians, Matasy, Heffner, and Vivian Montgomery, made for a memorable performance. The premiere of Lansing McLoskey’s blur (2009), another Dinosaur Annex commission, was performed by Matasy on clarinet and Heffner on basset horn. Matasy and Heffner truly listened to each other throughout this performance, ensuring that the consonant and dissonant qualities of the intervals presented were as tuned as possible, that their points of overlap were exact, and that each note was hit with accuracy. This work inspired me to be more critical when thinking about musical sonority, form and thematic development in the future. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Hidden Gem in Plain Sight

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Sunday’s glittering gem of a recital featuring cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws and pianist Ya-Fei Chuang. Just the fact that the performers’ names include an umlaut, exotic consonant and vowel clusters, and two hyphens is enough to pique one’s curiosity. And the price? Price-less! Thank you, Hammond Residential. Held in an intimate space on the second floor of the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End on April 5, this recital epitomized the chamber music experience. Müller-Szeraws created a consistently rich tone ranging from diaphonous to full-bodied, which, at times, reverberated perceptibly through the body of this listener. Scintillating! Chuang, actually an accomplished soloist in her own right, was the consummate accompanist, playing with restraint, precision, attentiveness, and immediacy. Müller-Szeraws and Chuang opened with a lush, flowing, and altogether too-brief bon-bon by Gabriel Fauré, his Romance in A Major, Opus 69. Schumann’s 5 Stücke in Volkston, Opus 102, transported listeners to a simpler world, with sweet, uncomplicated melodies and a straightforward emotional landscape full of sepia-toned nostalgia and yearning. We were quickly jolted out of our reverie by the next set of works, Leonard Bernstein’s Three Meditations from “Mass.” The Sonata in F Major, Opus 99, by Johannes Brahms showcased the performers’ technical prowess and emotional maturity. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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NESE Offers Program Heralding Upcoming Ballets Russes 2009

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The New England String Ensemble’s concert, on April 4 at Jordan Hall, featured music different in sound, but undeniably neoclassic. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings received the strongest and gutsiest playing of the night. The ensemble made the hall ring. Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagète is grossly underrated among his ballet scores. Conductor Federico Cortese’s tempo choices kept up the momentum, but he seemed a little too intent on maintaining a whiteness of surface. The conductor and players alike deserve credit for their navigation of the coda’s tempo and meter changes. The program opened with Arensky’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky. It was the sort of piece that got up, looked out the window, and decided not to go outside today. The real oddball on the program was an arrangement of the first movement of Nikolai Tcherepnin’s op. 11 String Quartet in A minor, arranged for string orchestra. The (excellent and informative) program notes suggested it was meant to give a broader picture of Russian music, but it felt out of place more than anything. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Mervellieux! Neuburger at the Gardner

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The Gardner Museum presented 23-year old French pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, on Sunday April 5. in the opening Bach Italian Concerto in F Major, There were no rhythmic tricks, just straight ahead determination in both outer movements, Allegro and Presto. Left and right hand each took simple, animated, and decisive directions. Under his hands, Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, M. 21 went far beyond the melodramatic representation sometimes heard in this piece. Lucidity prevailed. In the solo piano version of Ravel’s La Valse, Neuberger spliced together one emerging musical image after another, casting Ravel’s impressionistic fragments as aural cinematography. Neuburger held us on high ground, never yielding to the sentimentalized and the overly dramatic. He is an authentic and blossoming original performer. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cello Mid-day Treats at Emmanuel

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Emmanuel Music gave the Boston musical community a splendid present by presenting all six Bach cello suites by different cellists in free midday concerts on successive Thursdays in Back Bay’s intimate Leslie Lindsey Chapel. Each of the players, Rhonda Rider, Shannon Snapp, Michael Curry, Joshua Gordon, and Rafael Popper-Keiser, has a different style, but they are all good in their own way. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Modest Rusalka Succeeds Handsomely, with One Major Lapse

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Boston Lyric Opera recently gave the city its long overdue first staging of Antonín Dvorák’s 1901 operatic masterpiece Rusalka at the Shubert Theater. Seen March 27 – the fourth of six shows – the production had to vie in one critic’s mind with the very recent, generally splendid Met revival of Otto Schenk’s fairytale staging under Jíri Belohlavek. On its own (perforce more modest) terms, BLO’s show, staged by Eric Simonson, succeeded handsomely, with skilled conductor Ari Pelto. One major lapse: Simonson and Pelto cut the below-stairs observers, the Kitchen Spit and the Gamekeeper. This eliminated needed contextualization of Rusalka’s status at the castle and deprived Jezibaba of a major defining Act Three scene. Lister made Rusalka a likable if dutiful presence; her attractive soprano pays the price for Tosca and Salome in insecure B flats; happily, her best singing coincided with the testing final scene. John Cheek’s Water Gnome, visually evoking a frisky Willie Nelson, threw himself into the part. After thirty-plus years of career, his fine, mellow bass has a somewhat loosened vibrato but showed good line and wide range. Nancy Maultsby managed the upper reaches of Jezibaba’s part with careful aplomb and made a querulous, unpredictable witch. treachery). Rochelle Bard, looking like the pretty “mean girl” Veronica from Archie, vamped up an enjoyable storm as the Foreign Princess. The level rose with the entrance of Bryan Hymel’s Prince, an admirable impersonation notable for ardent acting and remarkably pleasing, secure tenor tone. Hymel had the best Czech phonetics; one wondered why BLO didn’t stage this opera, largely unfamiliar here, in English. One left the Shubert thinking, “What a great opera!” – always a good sign. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Celebrity Series Gone World Series with Perahia

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Murray Perahia conveyed an uncommon ease throughout Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, which began his concert presented by the Celebrity Series on Sunday, March 29, at Boston’s Symphony Hall. He let the discursive dances speak for themselves and coaxed simple two-note calls and responses into animated conversation. As for Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 332, I have never before heard such an action-packed performance: blinding shifts; bell-like melody soaring above a warm, sotto voce accompaniment; and finally the rip-roaring last movement, where Perahia swerved in and out of passages now joyous, now tongue-in-cheek, now bold. What a way to lead into the softest sounds of the afternoon: the pianissimo opening of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata! It was stunning. Perahia plumbed its depths in a non-stop high drama thick with emotion. In the first movement, he pedaled the ba-ba-ba-baah motive, causing sounds to overlap; he then articulated the same motive crisply in staccato fashion, the two iterations creating an unnerving suspense. After intermission, Perahia played Brahms’s rarely heard Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel in B-flat major, Opus 24.Without showing any sign of fatigue after 25 variations, all technically demanding, Perahia hit the ground running with a stentorian performance of the Fugue. Perahia’s rendering of these four masterworks at Symphony Hall showed what an inexhaustible source of transformative power they possess when in the right hands. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Some Gems, Some Rough Edges

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The Oriana Consort, a group of 25 singers, performed with a baroque string ensemble at the Swedenborgian Chapel in Cambridge on Sunday, March 29, under director Walter Chapin. Arvo Pärt’s setting of the story in Matthew, The Woman with the Alabaster Box (1997), is full of unusual tone clusters sung with purity of tone and pitch. The resulting “tintinabulation” was easily heard and strangely beautiful. The soprano section singing the choral tune in J.S. Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden (1707) was equally wonderful. The high point of the program was Frank Ticheli’s a capella setting of Sara Teasdale’s poem, “There will be rest.” The piece opens with disturbing clusters of notes, which resolve in and out of tonal harmony. Not everything on the program worked well, but Chapin and the chorus get considerable credit for a fascinating collection of seldom-heard music. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Violinist Batiashvili Debut, Guest Conductor Dutoit, Superb with BSO

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Charles Dutoit’s insouciant slow stroll from the stage door to the podium of Boston’s Symphony Hall would suggest a laid-back approach to music-making from this Swiss-French maestro, but this assumption was quickly proved wrong on Saturday, March 28. Karl Muck and the BSO first performed Ravel’s Mother Goose in Boston in 1913, and thereafter all of the orchestra’s music directors have presented it. Now Dutoit has put his own mark on the work, and the result was an extraordinarily elegant and beautifully sensitive reading, illumined and lovingly presented. Lisa Batiashvili made her BSO debut with the Prokofiev’s demanding Concerto in G, op. 63, another work which looms large in the BSO’s history. Bringing an air of assurance that belied her tender age, this Georgian (Russia) firebrand played flawlessly and with a passion and gentle sensitivity wholly appropriate to the mercurial demands of this essentially lyric though thorny masterwork. Again , there is a long BSO association with Stravinsky’s Petrushka. One would be hard-pressed to think how the performance given by Dutoit and the BSO on Saturday evening could have been bettered. His absolutely clear direction, his concepts of instrumental line and timbre, his pacing, his self-assurance and élan, all coalesced this band of individual virtuosi into a great ensemble performance. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Pacifica Quartet Shines in City That Fosters Chamber Music

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The Boston area is paradise for chamber music lovers. But even in this milieu, the Pacifica String Quartet shines. It is communication, both with us and with each other, that gives them their power. For their concert at Longy on March 26, Pacifica Quartet members Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardssohn, violins, Brandon Vamos, ‘cello, and Masumi Per Rostad, viola, were joined by guest violist Roger Tapping. The concert started with Mendelssohn’s Capriccio in E minor, op. 81, with the Pacifica pulling at the heartstrings of it. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, op. 44, No. 2, is possibly one of the most beautiful he wrote. Once again, the Pacifica made the most of it with their moving dynamics and phrasing. The Dvorak String Quintet in E flat major, opus 97, written while the composer was in the Czech community at Spillsville, Iowa, just after completing the “New World” Symphony, is full of American melodies and rhythms. Tapping fit into the group as if he had been rehearsing with them for years. Watching his eyes watch the others, particularly Per Rostad, was a delight. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Prokofiev from LSO and Gergiev: Powerful, Profound

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The London Symphony Orchestra, in midst of a demanding 35-event tour of the world’s concert halls, landed in Boston last Wednesday, March 23rd, As the concert’s opener, Gergiev and pianist Alexi Volodin played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, op. 73, “Emperor.” There were times when one longed for a bit more profundity from this pianist, a longing temporarily assuaged when the LSO strings began the concerto’s second movement with the most ravishing pianissimo playing one could hope for. LSO timpanist Nigel Thomas played the wondrous duet in the “Rondo” with the piano soloist with extraordinary grace of touch and wonderful dynamic shading. The orchestra reappeared in much greater number after intermission to face the challenge of Prokofiev’s great Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, op. 100, the American premiere of which was offered by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the very same stage in November, 1945. This performance was the finest of this work that I have heard.[Click title for full review]    [continued]

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BSO Burnishes Brahms, Bruckner

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Austrian conductor Hans Graf led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in glowing concerts given March 19-24, 2009, of the Bruckner Seventh Symphony and the Brahms Double Concerto at Symphony Hall. Soloists in the Brahms were Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, young women of exceptional talent and musical maturity. Both engaged in a good deal of physical body language, with much soulful eyes-closed ceiling-gazing from the latter. More importantly, they also constantly watched one another to coordinate their mutual entrances and handing-off of motivic elements throughout the work’s implicit give-and-take, necessary because of there being two solo voices in this concerto instead of the usual one. Graf skillfully sculpted the orchestra’s contributions into elegant frames of accompaniment. Graf’s essay of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E was tightly controlled and elegantly presented, with carefully planned balances between the choirs of the orchestra. Woodwinds and strings enjoyed freedom to play without fear of being swamped by the large section of brass instruments, augmented here by four Wagner tubas and a contrabass tuba. But was it precisely this constant control that may have contributed to the overall failure of this performance to elate and inspire? [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Dove’s Köthener Messe Builds on Bach

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Chorus pro Musica has established a solid reputation by presenting innovative new works throughout its 60 seasons. The March 14, 2009 concert at Boston’s Church of the Covenant featured the Köthener Messe (2002), a recent work of American composer Jonathan Dove based on motivic and biographical details of Johann Sebastian Bach that is at once Baroque and modern. Although the work takes advantage of recent compositional conventions such as dissonant clusters, vocal slides, and extended chromaticism, many concert-goers were reminded of the restrained, later sacred works of Igor Stravinsky; and the more elegiac sections recalled the haunting dissonances of Arvo Pärt. Mezzo soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore’s smooth, mellow interpretation of the opening aria, J.S. Bach’s “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” blended beautifully with Roy Sansom and Roxanne Layton’s sensitive recorder duet. Tenor Frank Kelley’s recitative and aria Der Schluß ist schon gemacht provided the dramatic center of the work. His expressive delivery showcased Bach’s ability to move from simple declamation, to virtuosity, to a brief but emotional cello solo by Marc Moskowitz. Handel’s early work Dixit Dominus, composed in his early twenties during his first visit to Rome, featured the excellent diction of the chorus in a surprisingly light, transparent interpretation. Conductor Michael Driscoll made his debut concert appearance with the CpM in this performance. Bach and Handel may be considered giants of High Baroque music, but Driscoll and the Chorus pro Musica emphasized their humanity, making their music warmer and approachable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Bezuidenhout/Müllejans Duo Dazzles Cambridge

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Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout astonished Cambridge concertgoers on Saturday, March 21, in a flawless recital of Mozart with violinist Petra Müllejans at Harvard’s Paine Hall under the auspices of Boston Early Music Festival. All of the excitement and frisson of the premieres of these Mozart masterworks were recreated in real time. One of the interests in this recital was observing how the prominence of the violin’s musical share flowered as Mozart grew in sophistication and facility in his violin/piano sonatas. Sonata in C, K. 296 began the evening, with its musical challenges mostly skewed in the keyboard direction. Repeats were nicely ornamented, wonderful give-and-take observed, and one was amazed by Bezuidenhout’s mastery of the pp-ppp end of the dynamic spectrum. The softest, most feathery touch was always flawlessly achieved. The deeper Sonata in G, K. 379 followed. The “distance” from the earlier sonata was quite wide, this sounding almost Beethoven-like in its reach of contrast and emotion. Bezuidenhout’s rapid passagework glittered and thrilled. The second movement was theme and variation form, with one variation delightfully embellished with violin pizzicati. The magisterial Sonata in B-flat, K. 454, showed Mozart at the height of his creativity, and one noticed immediately that the violin had achieved equal partnership with the keyboard. Both players rose to every opportunity the music offered, capping with quiet nobility an evening of grace, virtuosity, and elegance one always hopes to encounter, and this night, was gratefully achieved. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BMOP Harbison’s Winter’s Tale

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The Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s concert in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on Friday, March 20, under the direction of founder Gil Rose, performed a single work, a concert version of John Harbison’s 1974 opera Winter’s Tale (revised in 1991), with a libretto by the composer after Shakespeare’s play. The Shakespeare text is hard enough — in fact, dense — so a rendition to music of this play is hardly ever done. But Harbison did it. He is very talented, literarily as well as musically. Winter’s Tale is stunning, but it does not really work as a self-standing work. Some members of the audience commented that the change in musical language made it seem is almost like two operas, Act I and Act II. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Taking a Sporting Chance

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For the better part of a half century, Pro Musicis has concentrated on discovering the young and exceptionally gifted, then going on to assist them in launching their professional careers. At age 25, American-born Tanya Gabrielian was one of four pianists who won the 2008 Pro Musicis International Award. So it was under the auspices of this organization that Gabrielian came to Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, on Saturday, March 21. The program instantly suggested she might be taking a sporting chance of success, choosing unfamiliar faces and places, Tigran Mansurian, from Armenia, for one. Sonata No. 2 of Schnittke revealed Gabrielian’s exceptional temperament for piano but not for this dark side of the world. A controlled surface she created belied catastrophe, anger and pain, the core of the sonata. Mikhail Glinka’s The Lark, from A Farewell to St. Petersburg arranged by Mili Balakirev, suited Gabrielian’s polished pianism. Her deft and sensitive left-hand accompaniment lifted the cantabile melody into a place few pianists have reached. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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