BEMF’s Chamber Orchestra: Delightful One-To-A-Part Affair

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Boston Early Music Festival presented “A Grand Entertainment” at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on June 12. Dominic Teresi’s phrasing on the bassoon was particularly elegant in Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Overture in G minor. Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto presented by a scaled-down ensemble was a delight to hear. The texture was consistently taught, but floated as if delicate lace. The notorious harpsichord part was easily devoured by Kristian Bezuidenhout, but the other soloists (Sandra Miller with flute, Robert Mealy with violin) were no less distinguished. The Vivaldi Concerto in C major for mandolin (RV 425) was another delight. Paul O’Dette‘s mandolin anchored those trademark resonant harmonies; he was “only” there for the joy of doing what he so clearly loves. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Boston Early Music Festival: All-day Inaugural Keyboard Mini-Festival

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The interplay of composition, keyboard and performance was the focus of the six-hour mini-marathon directed by Boston’s Peter Sykes at First Lutheran Church on June 11.  Six of  “today’s most active and respected early keyboard artists”  played on four different keyboards, all replicas of instruments originally built in the 18th century. Kristian Bezuidenhout played Haydn on a remake of a 1795 Anton Walter fortepiano, enabling him to find life in  Haydn’s compositions through the instrument that later had enlightened the composer.  Andrew Willis tested three J. S. Bach solo keyboard concertos circa 1738-1739 on a Florentine fortepiano by David Sutherland. The four “orchestral” strings were too lusciously meaty for the Florentine. Part II shifted to the harpsichord. Luca Guglielmi and William Porter played a double-manual harpsichord by Allan Winkler. Guglielmi displayed technical mastery, with fingers flying through high-speed passages into stunning silvery liquid.  The passacaglia from Musicalisher Parnassus: Uranie by JCF Fischer, played by William Porter, was down-to-earth storytelling; the 10 dances curtsied and bowed. With Guglielmi and Porter alternately at the keyboard, Alan Winkler’s ever so entrancing harpsichord appeared to be two different instruments. For Part III, out came the clavichord, described as an “intimate instrument” associated with “private experiences.” At times, intrusions from Boston’s noisy afternoon traffic made it impossible to hear this incredibly soft-spoken early keyboard instrument. Obviously a suitable venue for future endeavors is a must for  this tiny apparatus that makes the “sweetest of sweet sounds.” David Breitman’s playing revealed many of the instrument’s capabilities, among them, the performer’s extraordinary control over the keys. Sykes asked, “Performers are supposed to care about composers, but what happens if you don’t and you just want to try something out?” His testing Beethoven on the clavichord, raised the big question of the day. He asked, “What do think about hearing Beethoven on this instrument? The Alan Winkler clavichord induced extraordinary tonal, spatial and temporal transformation. In his dual role of performer and director, Peter Sykes did convert-did change the music-and did win over listeners. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Micrologus Searches for Variety in Italian Quattrocento Court Music

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Italian ensemble Micrologus, presented as part of the Boston Early Music Festival, joined guest lutenist Crawford Young Wednesday afternoon, June 10, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, in a varied and colorful program of 14th-century secular music that included songs by Franco-Flemish composers active in Italy along with home-grown songs and dances. Micrologus showed its virtuosic improvisatory skills in varied and highly colorful renditions of the Italian dance tunes. Colorful variety seems to work less well, however, for 14th-century polyphonic songs in the courtly tradition. Since performance indications are notoriously lacking in late medieval sources, most of our knowledge of performance practice comes from surviving pictorial representations that can be misleading. Varying the instrumentation with each stanza of a single rondeau, as in “Amours, amours” by the Flemish composer Hayne van Ghizeghem, distracted attention from the inherent tension of the rondeau form. If their search for variety sometimes seemed to overreach, we were never bored and often captivated. The ensemble appears again on Friday night, June 12, 2009 at 11 pm at Emmanuel Church in a program of fourteenth-century Italian songs and dances. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Pierre Hantaï: Extemporaneous Harpsichordist Extraordinaire for BEMF

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An attentive audience of intriguingly eccentric Early Music enthusiasts was treated to a true keyboard artiste when French harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï made his long-overdue return visit to the Boston Early Music Festival on the evening of 10 June, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Monsieur Hantaï, playing from a thick notebook of music, used this flexibility to mix things up a bit and toss in a few extra bon-bons, but essentially the concert consisted of a Scarlatti sandwich on thick slices of Bach bread. J. S. Bach is Hantaï’s bread and butter, and he performs the great master’s works with calm assurance and depth of understanding. His playing is by no means glitch-free, but any occasional, ephemeral glitches are self-assured occasional, ephemeral glitches. After a warm-up mélange of several preludes and fugues usually relegated to student recitals, played with maturity and sophistication, Hantaï plunged in to the English Suite No 4 in F Major, played with panache, elegant turns of phrase, and the occasional sweeping hand flourish. The second half opened with four sonatas by Bach’s exact contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti. To round out the program, Hantai treated us to another English suite, No. 2 in A minor. He performed these dance movements with verve and panache, and a generous helping of embellishments. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Outstanding Performance by Borromeo and Stoltzman at Rockport

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Chamber Music doesn’t get better than the program featuring the Borromeo Quartet and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman last Sunday afternoon, June 7, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. In Nicholas Kitchen’s arrangement for string quartet of the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, the quintessential organ work, Cellist Yeeson Kim instantly set the right mood as she played the passacaglia theme with dynamic shadings no organist could summon from mere pipes. My only regret was the omission of a cadenza near the end of the Bach fugue; this has become somewhat of a custom among organists, and I was curious about what these splendid musicians might have improvised or even composed for that dramatic fermata. Quartet No. 3 of Lera Auerbach, a Russian composer who was in the audience, combines a hint of tonality with sharp rhythm, and varied gestural color, to outstanding effect. The last two movements included a brief chorale-like section, and a conclusion which descended ineffably into deep introspection. Brahms’ introspective, late (1890) Op 115 Quintet, with clarinetist Richard Stolzman joining the Borromeo players received a world-class performance from these splendid musicians. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Winds of the Serenissima: Ensemble Zefiro at Boston Early Music Festival

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In their first appearance at the Boston Early Music Festival on Monday evening, June 8th at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, Ensemble Zefiro demonstrated just how captivating the sound of Baroque double-reed instruments can be. The program was designed to demonstrate the virtuosity and expressive skills of each of the players: oboist Alfredo Bernardini, the Grazzi brothers Paolo (oboe) and Alberto (bassoon), basso continuo player Lorenz Duftschmid, violone (baroque double bass) and Luca Guglielmi playing harpsichord and a small chamber organ. In the absence of Evangelina Mascardi, lutanist and BEMF Artistic Co-Director Paul O’Dette joined the continuo group on the theorbo, a large lute with additional bass strings. Virtuosic yet flexible and expressive, Ensemble Zefiro’s playing is just the opposite of the mechanical and repetitive delivery one still hears all too often in performances of Vivaldi and contemporaries. We owe a vote of thanks to the BEMF organizers for bringing us this brilliant ensemble and their well chosen program. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Aliénor Offers Wealth of Modern Harpsichord Music

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The question of what modern composers add to the repertoire of harpsichord music was ably demonstrated in the Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Concert today (June 9) by Aliénor, at the First Lutheran Church in Back Bay on June 9. Besides providing new sources for melodies, simply because of the repertoire of music since the heyday of the Baroque, harpsichords bring a percussive rhythmic potential unmatched by any other instrument. Because the harpsichord has two keyboards, two notes can be played against each other, creating continual sound. This facility is evident in Ligeti’s aptly named Continuum, which was played at this concert. As for the dissonances so redolent in modern harpsichord music, on a harpsichord, they are strangely, surprisingly satisfying, like change ringing. Several harpsichordists contributed to this concert: Katelyn Clark, Joyce Lindorff, Randall Love, and Elaine Funaro, as well as superb violinist John Pruett. So the concert provided delightful sounds from different hands. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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¡Sacabuche! on the Fringe of the Baroque

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The possibilities of the Baroque trombone were demonstrated with great technical skill and solid musicianship on June 7 at Emmanuel Church in Boston by the ensemble ¡Sacabuche! It was easy to hear why this group, students and alumni of Indiana University’s Early Music Institute, was invited to the BEMF Fringe Series. The program highlighted the use of trombones with voices and other instruments in various combinations during the cross-over period from the Renaissance to the Baroque, as well as the influences of Italian music on German composers at that time. As a whole, the concert was a fascinating and satisfying listen into music that is too often relegated to the fringes of standard repertoire. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BEMF Sells ‘Power of Love’ with Intimate Magnificence

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One of the most successful aspects of Boston Early Music Festival’s production of L’Incoronatione di Poppea is the palpability of the characters. In addition to being top-notch singers, the cast is constantly teeming with persona, humor, and pathos. Concertmaster Robert Mealy leads a small chamber ensemble that produced a beautifully undiluted and genuinely early-Baroque sound. Additional performances at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts are on June 9, 10 and 12 (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday nights} at 8 pm. Co-directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs delivered a far-from-ordinary, excellent production, although a substitution for the opera originally proposed. At the end of the night, BEMF’s presentation of Poppea seemed like anything but a compromise. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Alla Gloria d’Italia: NESE’s Concerto per la Repubblica

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The Consulate General of Italy in Boston, Liborio Stellino, was on hand to observe the anniversary of the foundation of the Italian republic for Concerto per la Repubblica at Jordan Hall on June 3. Il Canto degli Italiani and The Star-Spangled Banner began Concerto per la Repubblica which featured revered works of Italian composers performed by the celebrated New England String Ensemble along with young soloists from the Boston area, all winners of NESE’s 2009 Youth String Concerto Competition. Thrilling it really was to behold four young and accomplished fiddlers aged 14-17 performing in a movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor. Each of these third-place winners had a distinctive voice turning Vivaldi into a most fascinating musical dialogue. No real red flags flying during this celebration. There were intonation flare-ups; solo-orchestra interplay once in a while went missing. Cortese, New England String Ensemble, youth soloists and music of Italian composers all made for a totally enjoyable evening. If only young students from the Boston area could have been present to see and hear-be inspired by-such sparkling role models. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Turandot: Cipher of an Opera

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Turandot is a cipher of an opera. Chorus pro Musica concluded its 60th season with a semi-staged production at Jordan Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 31. The opera’s exoticisms certainly invite a grand staging, but it seemed better off without it. Othalie Graham’s Turnadot projected a mystery befitting the character. Special mention should go to David Kravitz (Ping) for his acting during Liù’s death scene. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Boston Chamber Music Society Offers Good Old-Fashioned Chamber Music

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The Boston Chamber Music Society provided plenty of satisfaction in their concert at Sanders Theater last Sunday, May 17. Haydn’s Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in G major, Hob. XV:15 was expertly played, but the stylistic approach was more 19th-century sturm und drang than 18th-century classical elegance and lightness, and this little masterpiece almost broke under the weight. Their tempo for Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major, op. 70 was ideal, and the entire work came across as refreshing and exciting. The highlight of the concert was the Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, op. 5, magnificently performed by Ida Levin, Wilhelmina Smith, Mihae Lee and violist Marcus Thompson (the new director of the BCMS). The finale first Vienna performance in 1862 “was obviously designed to bring the house down, and it did.” The same thing happened at Sanders Theater in 2009. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Twelve Centuries of New Music from Capella Clausura

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Cappella Clausura, a women’s chamber chorus founded and directed by Amelia LeClair, has worked tirelessly in the last five years to bring to the public’s attention music written steadily by women for 12 centuries. Of the six composers represented in last Sunday’s concert, I had not heard of four, much less heard a note of their music. And I call myself a music historian. Most importantly, the pieces of the four “unknowns” have nothing of the amateurish about them, despite the fact that all four composers would – officially, at least – have to be styled “amateurs.” But if the pieces on the program are any indication, they were, in one way or another, intimately connected to the developments of their own day. Moreover, the material is masterfully handled. The music of mid-century Italy seems to make no distinction between sacred and profane love; and the quality of voice of the members of the ensemble who sang the respective solos seemed exactly right for the protagonist in question. The Cappella Clausura and its programming radiate good judgment and imagination. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Standing Stillness, Smashing Success

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The Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston wrapped up their 2008-09 season series with a program of spirits voices ecstatic at the Goethe-Institut Boston on Sunday, May 17. The dreamy and highly personal syntax of Robert Schumann’s inimitable Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, became, instead, a very respectable but nearly lackluster reading. Kelli O’Conner’s ultra pure sound on clarinet was everything one could imagine Arvo Pärt wanting for his Spiegel im Spiegel or “Mirror in the Mirror.” The Ensemble presented the world premiere of Zikhr: Songs of Longing for soprano, flute, string trio, harp, tabla and percussion by Shirish Korde. A melting pot of musical cultures, Zikhr was sometimes overripe and oftentimes congested. Takemitsu’s fine Rain Spell for flute, clarinet, piano, vibraphone and harp, cast its spell through the artful interplay of the musicians. The Chameleons wound up their program with a smashing performance of the Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 45 by Gabriel Fauré. It was, in my view, one of the best performances of anything I have heard around Boston during the entire 2008-09 concert season. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BBC Still Reliable Messenger

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A large and enthusiastic audience was on hand at Sanders Theater on May 16th for the 35th Anniversary concert of the Back Bay Chorale. Conductor Scott Allen Jarrett was joined by soloists Arianna Zuckerman and David Kravitz in the world premiere performance of Julian Wachner’s Come My Dark Eyed One and Brahms’ German Requiem. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Historic Boston Music Hall Organ Commemorated

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A rousing event of this year’s concert season was the re-enactment at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall on May 10 of a major musical and social event in 19th-century Boston – the November 3, 1863 inauguration of the great organ built in Germany by Walcker Orgelbau for the Boston Music Hall on lower Washington Street (now the Orpheum Theater). The organ was rededicated at Methuen Memorial Music Hall (built as Serlo Hall in 1909). Its centennial celebration will take place in September.
see http://www.mmmh.org [click title for full review]

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Musicians from Marlboro Perform Music from Three Centuries at the Gardner Museum

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Musicians from Marlboro’s concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s “Sunday Concert Series” on May 10 consisted of compositions from three centuries, beginning with Nielsen, followed by Haydn, and after a brief intermission, Schubert. Clarinetist Pascal Archer exhibited a great range of musical skill in Nielsen’s Serenata in vano. Also impressive was the synchrony between the bassoon, played by Jennifer Collins Monroe, and the clarinet. With its peculiar grouping of instruments, this piece certainly had a unique sound – not one that I am persuaded I was drawn to. Violinists Sarah Kapustin and Lily Francis, along with violist Julianne Lee and cellist Peter Wiley, gave a solid presentation of the Haydn Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. The hero of this performance was Wiley, who steadily provided strong support to the ensemble, yet when given the opportunity, played beautifully moving melodies. The highlight of this concert was certainly the performance of Schubert’s Octet in F Major for winds and strings. The ensemble enhanced the inherent drama in the sixth and final movement through their repetitive full crescendos. They also did a magnificent job in hitting unresolved chords with great pitch accuracy, afterwards leaving a breath in the music as the audience begs for these sounds to resolve. Rewarded with a standing ovation, this performance of Schubert’s Octet was presented with great musical stamina and skill on behalf of this ensemble of accomplished musicians. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Good For What Ails You

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I’m guessing that a fair number of you aren’t familiar with the Longwood Symphony, an admirable local group, which is a pity. Longwood Symphony is dedicated to community service and raising awareness for under-funded medically-related programs. Each concert is a benefit for one of these deserving causes. This particular performance on May 9 benefited the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. Conductor Jonathan McPhee oversees the group with a fluid and attentive style; extremely capable and musical. Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, written at the close of World War II, got things off to an optimistic start. George Antheil’s McKonkey’s Ferry, a musical portrayal of Washington’s surprise crossing of the Delaware, plays very much like a dramatic film score. All in all, an extremely uplifting evening featuring optimistic music passionately performed by multitalented caregivers. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Juventas Presents Two Chamber Operas

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Juventas new music ensemble focused on two new chamber operas for its latest concert on May 10 at the Cambridge Family YMCA. Matthew Vest’s The Hourglass, adapting Danilo Kiš’s book of the same name, appeared to be the portrayal of chaos, but it ended up being literal instead of depicted. Erin Huelskamp’s The Year of the Serpent associated different characters with different genres: pentatonic chinoiserie for Li Chi, steamy jazz for the serpent. The choices were a bit familiar, but fit into the opera’s campy vibe. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cantata Singers Team Up with Young Choristers in Final Concert of Britten Season

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The Cantata Singers concluded their Britten season last Friday, May 8th at 7:30 in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall with two works by Britten, the premiere of Andy Vores’s Natural Selection, a single choral movement by Bach, and a collaborative “cantata” by fourth-graders from the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. Britten’s The Company of Heaven employs two speakers, soprano and tenor soloists, chorus, and an orchestra of strings, organ, and timpani. Speakers Marya Lowry and James Petosa delivered narrative and poetic texts with equal clarity and conviction, while rhythmicize choral recitation to orchestral accompaniment of the final battle between Michael and Satan from the Book of Revelation demonstrated Britten’s mastery of this dramatic technique. Students from Cantata Singer’s “Classroom Cantatas” program were joined by the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of their songs with the Cantata Singers orchestra. Andy Vores skillfully incorporated the children’s tunes into his own choral settings,for his newly commissioned cantata Natural Selection a “celebration of the natural world and of Charles Darwin.” Under Hoose’s direction, Cantata Singers delivered a spirited performance of Bach’s Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, although the complex fugal texture might have been better served by a smaller choral ensemble. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Opera Boston: The Case for Pertinence over Authenticity

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One of the most prevailing criticisms of the opera world today is how common it has become for opera companies to take gratuitous, and often anachronistic creative license in the production of pre-20th-century operatic works. Yet after all of the reworking of the setting, translation of the text, and modernization of the characters, Opera Boston’s production of Bedrich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride was magnificent. The orchestra, lead by Gil Rose, not only played beautifully, but captured the essence of the Czech folk roots of Smetana’s score. Jennifer Aylmer and Patrick Miller were fantastic, and opera veteran James Maddalena truly made this comic opera an actual comedy. Act III was nothing short of spectacle, with fantastic choreography and direction by Daniel Pelzig. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Brilliant Close to Season by Boston Baroque with Michael Haydn Mass, Other Works

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Conductor Martin Pearlman and concertmaster Daniel Stepner brought Boston Baroque’s 35th anniversary season to a brilliant close in Jordan Hall with performances May 1st and 2nd of works by Mozart and the two Haydns. Pearlman’s skillful direction in Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass was rewarded by crisp articulation and flexible dynamics from the 21-voice choir and the orchestra of top-notch players on period strings. Soprano Hyunah Yu, mezzo Ann McMahon Quintero, tenor Kerem Kurk and bass-baritone Kevin Deas sang with focused tone and stylistic sensitivity. The second half of the program included two concert arias by Mozart and concluded with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony no. 102 in Bb major, in which Pearlman made the most of displaced accents and rhythmic displacements that constantly jolted the listener’s expectations. In the hands of skillful players and conductors, period instruments’ focused tuning, precise attack, and agility can peal away layers of post-romantic performing traditions to reveal the wit and subtlety of music that we too often take for granted. Count Boston Baroque as yet another jewel of Boston’s musical scene. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Mozart Yin Berlioz Yang in Harmony with Davis/BSO

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Colin Davis, now in his eighties but conducting with the zeal of a tyro, led three remarkable concerts last week of Mozart and Berlioz, two polar-opposite composers for whom he exhibits a very special affinity. Sir Colin had programmed Mozart’s, Piano Concerto #25 in C, K. 503 with soloist Imogen Cooper, and Berlioz massive Te Deum. These were the final concerts of the orchestra’s 128th season. I was fortunate to hear the three concerts in succession, and it was instructive to follow the arc of interpretation and expression which was carried through the performances. By Saturday, venerable Symphony Hall virtually levitated. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Unusual Pieces Chosen for Mendelssohn’s 200th Birthday Celebration at NEC

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The New England Conservatory celebrated the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth on May 4 at Jordan Hall, as the final performance of the 24th season of their “First Mondays” concert series with Mendelssohn’s Nocturno for Winds (sometimes performed under the title Overture for Winds), excerpts from Mendelssohn’s four-hand piano arrangement of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his Quintet No. 2 in Bb Major, Op. 87. The Nocturno for Winds (1824) was performed by a promising student ensemble of 11 musicians led by conductor Hugh Wolff. Originally arranged as evening entertainment music for amateur pianists, Mendelssohn’s piano four-hand version of his famed incidental music A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a faithful reduction of the orchestral piece, but leaves much to be desired nonetheless. After the intermission, established musicians and teachers Miriam Fried, violin; Annie Rabbat, violin; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Paul Biss, viola; and Paul Katz, cello, gave a strong performance of Mendelssohn’s four-movement Quintet No. 2 in Bb Major, Op. 87 (1845). [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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